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The President-Elect Drives Misleading News Coverage 140 Characters At A Time
Since his victory, President-elect Donald Trump has used his Twitter account to generate positive news about himself across the spectrum of media platforms, implanting misleading narratives about his business and economic acumen into national news -- sometimes for days at a time. Reports on the tentative nature of jobs he had supposedly “saved” at an Indiana factory offer a perfect example of why journalists should be wary of treating the president-elect’s boasts as newsworthy.
On November 30, Fortune magazine reported that Trump had struck a deal with Indiana-based appliance manufacturer Carrier to provide taxpayer-funded incentives to the company if it agreed to keep several hundred jobs in the United States. In a tweet, Trump boasted that he would soon meet “the great workers of Carrier,” proclaiming that “they will sell many air conditioners!” Broadcast and cable news outlets heaped praise on the president-elect’s “symbolic coup.” In a December 1 speech at the Carrier facility in Indianapolis, Trump took credit for saving “over 1,100 jobs” and said the number of jobs kept safe “is going to go up very substantially.”
A few days later, the flimsy Carrier story had completely fallen apart.
Initial reports detailed how, in exchange for a multimillion dollar handout, the manufacturer was only keeping some jobs in Indiana -- the rest were still going to Mexico. By December 6, Chuck Jones, the president of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1999, was irate that hundreds of union jobs were still scheduled to be outsourced after Trump had promised to save them, according to The Washington Post. “For whatever reason,” said Jones, the president-elect “lied his a-- off.” During a December 7 interview with CNN, Carrier employee T.J. Bray compared the farce to “a dog and pony show” and expressed his disappointment that “we are still losing a lot of workers.”
On December 9, CNNMoney reported that some of the millions of taxpayer dollars doled out as part of the Carrier deal “will be invested in automation” that will soon “replace some of the jobs that were just saved.” According to Carrier, automation is the only way they can compete with low-cost labor in Mexico. CNNMoney correctly reported that the sharp decline in American manufacturing employment is “thanks in large part to more efficient factories.” Workforce automation has been a fact of life since the 1800s, but that point was obfuscated by Trump, who misled workers at Carrier and around the country, many of whom think they are losing their jobs to free trade and immigration.
The days-long saga of news outlets cutting through the spin on this Carrier deal, which included the president-elect attacking Chuck Jones on Twitter, resulting in Jones receiving death threats from Trump supporters, follows a familiar pattern.
Trump tweeted that he had single-handedly kept a Ford plant from moving to Mexico, on November 17. Conservative media outlets rushed to give him credit and many mainstream outlets followed suit, but, upon further investigation, it turned out that Ford’s decision had nothing to do with Trump. The plant “was never moving to Mexico” to begin with and no jobs were on the chopping block.
On December 6, Trump tweeted that “costs are out of control” on what he claimed was a “more than $4 billion” contract between Boeing and the U. S. government to update Air Force One. Trump concluded his tweet with “Cancel the order!” As Trump’s tweet drove news coverage, Boeing shares plunged more than 1 percent -- an almost $1 billion hit to the company’s market capitalization. Hours later, a fact-check from The Washington Post revealed that almost every word in the tweet was exaggerated, false, or misleading but the damage had already been done. Trump’s intervention set such a dangerous precedent that even Fox News’ Karl Rove was aghast.
Later on December 6, Trump staged an impromptu press availability in the elevator lobby of Trump Tower with Japanese telecommunications mogul Masayoshi Son. In a brief statement and corresponding tweets, Trump claimed credit for landing a $50 billion investment commitment that would create 50,000 jobs and national media spent the rest of the day praising him. ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum predicted that Trump’s “formula for manipulating the public” through “substance-free tweets” and fawning media would succeed because “people will have largely moved on” by the time reporters uncovered the details. He was right. The next morning, reports from The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and CNN showed that Trump may have had little influence on the deal.
The problem of media amplifying his misinformation isn’t confined to economic policy. A November 27 tweet falsely claiming Hillary Clinton received “millions” of illegal votes generated so much media attention that it has become gospel for many Trump supporters. PolitiFact, which traced the illegal voter conspiracy to Trump ally and 9/11 truther Alex Jones, rated the claim “False”, calling it "obscenely ludicrous.”
The fact that Trump’s boasts always seem to crumble in the face of modest scrutiny is a telling sign. Media outlets need to stop letting Trump’s tweets dictate and drive the news cycle and stop accepting his self-promotion at face value.
On December 6, President-elect Donald Trump credited his election victory for spurring Japanese telecommunications and technology giant SoftBank to propose a $50 billion investment in the United States, which he claimed would create as many as 50,000 jobs. Later reporting from The Wall Street Journal and others debunked Trump’s boasts, but not before numerous media outlets amplified his unsubstantiated claims.
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Indiana-Based Company Convinces Trump To Give It Taxpayer Money, Still Moves Many Of Its Jobs To Mexico
Broadcast and cable news personalities rushed to credit President-elect Donald Trump for closing a deal with the Indiana-based manufacturer Carrier that provides the for-profit company with millions of taxpayer dollars while allowing it to still outsource hundreds of jobs to Mexico. Journalists and reporters framed the agreement as a “symbolic coup” and “unadulterated win” for Trump’s incoming administration even as they acknowledged that supporting a relatively small number of jobs at taxpayer expense is an unsustainable manufacturing policy.
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After Donald Trump's election, media and experts are predicting the president-elect’s stated policies will harm the economy if implemented in 2017 and beyond. According to expert analyses, working-class Americans will face the greatest economic disruptions as a result of Trump’s policies.
Hundreds of economists, including eight Nobel laureates, signed a letter denouncing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s repeated lies about job growth, trade, immigration, the federal debt, and the state of the American economy. The misinformation the economists identified is not Trump’s alone, but the product of a right-wing media echo chamber that specializes in spreading myths about the economy to serve its partisan agenda.
The Wall Street Journal published a letter from 370 economists on November 1 denouncing Trump’s economic policies and the distortions upon which they are built. The Journal reported that the letter was “less partisan or ideological” than similar letters aimed at political candidates and instead focused on “Trump’s history of promoting debunked falsehoods” and “conspiracy theories” instead of “engag[ing] with reality.” The economists took specific issue with Trump’s false claims that the unemployment rate is higher than the federal government reports, that increasing tariffs would lead to more U.S. manufacturing jobs, that immigration has hurt the U.S. economy, and that his proposed tax cuts will decrease the deficit. From the letter:
- He degrades trust in vital public institutions that collect and disseminate information about the economy, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by spreading disinformation about the integrity of their work.
- He has misled voters in states like Ohio and Michigan by asserting that the renegotiation of NAFTA or the imposition of tariffs on China would substantially increase employment in manufacturing. In fact, manufacturing’s share of employment has been declining since the 1970s and is mostly related to automation, not trade.
- He claims to champion former manufacturing workers, but has no plan to assist their transition to well-compensated service sector positions. Instead, he has diverted the policy discussion to options that ignore both the reality of technological progress and the benefits of international trade
- He has misled the public by asserting that U.S. manufacturing has declined. The location and product composition of manufacturing has changed, but the level of output has more than doubled in the U.S. since the 1980s.
- He has lowered the seriousness of the national dialogue by suggesting that the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Education would significantly reduce the fiscal deficit. A credible solution will require an increase in tax revenue and/or a reduction in spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or Defense
- He claims he will eliminate the fiscal deficit, but has proposed a plan that would decrease tax revenue by $2.6 to $5.9 trillion over the next decade according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation.
- He uses immigration as a red herring to mislead voters about issues of economic importance, such as the stagnation of wages for households with low levels of education. Several forces are responsible for this, but immigration appears to play only a modest role. Focusing the dialogue on this channel, rather than more substantive channels, such as automation, diverts the public debate to unproductive policy options.
The falsehoods the economists denounce have been well-documented -- Media Matters identified 19 economic myths Trump has spread during this election cycle. The economists took issue with Trump falsely claiming the unemployment rate could be as high as 42 percent, a wildly exaggerated figure that has been repeatedly debunked after being popularized by right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.
The economists denounced Trump’s attacks on immigrants and immigration reform, which have been enabled by Fox hosts Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and others at the network. According to Vice, Trump learned his anti-immigrant rhetoric from right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, who has attacked immigrants for years. Yet, as FiveThirtyEight chief economics writer Ben Casselman pointed out, immigration has “important economic advantages” for the United States, including stoking economic growth by imbuing the population with younger and more economically productive workers and consumers.
The economists pointed out that Trump’s proposed tax cuts will explode the deficit by $2.6 to $3.9 trillion. Media Matters has pointed out that Trump’s tax policy agenda has been discredited as “pie in the sky” and “magical thinking” by experts on both sides of the aisle, but it has nevertheless found repeated defenders in Fox News, which falsely claims huge tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans is “how we grow the economy.” The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has also defended Trump’s tax plan, lauding it for reducing taxes on the wealthy.
Even conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin -- no stranger to pushing absurd and unrealistic right-wing media narratives when it suits her -- slammed Trump’s “know-nothingism” on the economy. Conservative Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman had also previously hit the GOP nominee for perpetuating “a scam, skillfully pitched to fool the gullible” with his fact-free economic populism.
But criticism from a few conservative writers does not change the fact that conservative media outlets enabled Trump’s lies, paved the way for his presidential campaign, and built the political infrastructure he needed to conquer the Republican Party. As Media Matters and others have repeatedly pointed out, Trump is a creation of the right-wing media. His willingness to echo any number of right-wing media economic myths is further proof of that.
Ezra Klein: Trade “Was Trump’s Best Portion Of The Debate … But He Didn’t Know What He Was Talking About”
Even as they criticized the rest of his performance for its lies and a general incoherence on basic policy specifics, mainstream and conservative media personalities are largely in agreement that Republican nominee Donald Trump earned more style points than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the first half of their presidential debate on September 26, which focused on the economy and international trade.
But as Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein argued in a September 27 blog, the belief among journalists and pundits that Trump “won” the opening economic portion -- or any portion -- of the debate only holds water if you grade the candidate’s braggadocious style as more important than his vacant substance (emphasis added):
This is how it felt to me, too. Stylistically, this section was Trump’s best portion of the debate. He kept slamming Clinton on NAFTA — "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” — and spoke with the confidence of a man who knew what he was talking about.
But he didn’t know what he was talking about.
What was stylistically Trump’s best portion of the debate was substantively among his worst (I say among his worst because it is hard to beat the section where he said he both would and would not honor the NATO treaty, and then said he both would and would not adhere to the first-strike doctrine on nuclear weapons). Trump was arguing the central economic theory of his campaign — and he was just wrong. In a section that began with him demanding solutions for our economic woes, he showed himself completely confused as to the nature of not just our economic problems, but the underlying labor market.
The tone of his voice and the confidence of his delivery shouldn’t distract us from the hollowness of his remarks.
From his introductory remarks, Trump unleashed a torrent of falsehoods during the first presidential debate of the general election. Journalists and commentators from across the political spectrum slammed the GOP nominee for his seeming lack of preparation and inability to execute a clear debate strategy. Focus groups of undecided voters conducted by CNN and by conservative pollster Frank Luntz agreed that Clinton trounced Trump on the stage, and a national poll fielded by CNN showed that debate viewers came away thinking Trump had lost “overwhelmingly.” Trump was even needled by reporters for revealing “his famously thin skin” and for failing to control his impulses and “los[ing] the battle against himself.”
And yet, somehow, numerous professional debate-watchers seemed to think Trump actually performed well during the opening portion of the debate, when he attacked Clinton and President Obama on the economy. Ignoring that the country Trump was describing doesn’t actually exist, journalists largely seemed to agree that Trump’s jeremiad was nonetheless effective.
Professional economists who watched the debate, on the other hand, savaged Trump for his repeated lies about the American economy. Trump falsely claimed the American labor market is being hollowed out by trade even when job creation is steady, he reiterated a false right-wing media claim that American incomes are stagnant when they are rising, he repeated his own false claim that the Federal Reserve is acting “politically” to prop up the economic recovery while claiming at the same time that the economy isn’t really recovering, and he lied about his impossible plan to pay down the national debt. And Trump did all of these things during a segment of the debate that commentators currently argue he won.
For months, media critics have lamented how Trump is often graded “on a curve” for his performances and public statements, noting that he is “held to a different standard than Clinton” and his other political counterparts. The widespread perception that Trump outdid himself during the opening minutes of the debate while spouting a laundry list of lies about the economy and trade, proves how persistent this problem remains.
Trump’s Economic Policy Promises Are “Magic Beanstalk Beans”
Economists and experts slammed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for pushing lies and misinformation about the state of the economy during the September 26 presidential debate.
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According to Media Matters’ ongoing quarterly analyses of prime-time weekday cable news coverage of the economy, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was by far the most frequently featured guest during economic news segments in the first half of 2016. Trump used an apparent standing invitation for interviews from Fox News to fill the airwaves with misleading claims about the supposedly poor state of the economy, while dubiously promising to boost economic growth and job creation through trickle-down tax cuts and restrictions on free trade.
In the first and second quarters of 2016, Trump has been a featured guest during a cable prime-time segment focused on economic news and policy 40 times. Trump’s presence on television dwarfed appearances by Sen. Ted Cruz (20) and Gov. John Kasich (10) -- his rivals for the GOP nomination -- as well as Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (9) and Hillary Clinton (4):
Trump’s cable news dominance is mostly a product of Fox News favoritism, where he has appeared 36 times in the past six months -- 18 times in each quarter. During that period, Fox News aired 175 segments dedicated to the economy, and Trump appeared as a guest in over 20 percent of them. All of Trump’s appearances came during interviews on The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity:
Fox hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity have come under heavy scrutiny for the lavish amount of airtime they give Trump. Hannity has served as the poster boy of Fox News’ embrace of the GOP nominee, leading to him being ridiculed as a Trump “fanboy” for his fawning over the candidate. O'Reilly’s softball interviews have also been seen as embarrassing for the network, leading to accusations that Fox News lacks journalistic integrity and is merely backing Trump to boost ratings. New York magazine correspondent Gabe Sherman reported on May 17 that, "According to one Fox News producer, the channel's ratings dip whenever an anti-Trump segment airs.”
With Trump being treated with kid-gloves by Hannity and O'Reilly, he was able to use his airtime to push his extreme and unworkable right-wing agenda. Trump’s claims have received criticism from across the political spectrum; conservative Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman slammed Trump on June 29 for his simplistic look at global commerce, which he called “a scam, skillfully pitched to fool the gullible,” and echoed criticism of Trump from economist and Economic Policy Institute (EPI) president Lawrence Mishel.
Fox’s coverage of Donald Trump has been so biased it received special attention from Jon Stewart during a guest hosting appearance on CBS’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Stewart took aim at Hannity -- referring to him only as “Lumpy” -- for his blatant hypocrisy in supporting Trump. This obvious turn around led Stewart to lament that "I’m sure it’s easy for people without ethics or principles to embrace someone who embodies everything that they said they hated about the previous president for the past eight years":
Steve Chapman: “It's A Scam, Skillfully Pitched To Fool The Gullible”
Conservative Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman joined a chorus of media and policy experts from across the political spectrum in criticizing Donald Trump’s promise to bring back American manufacturing jobs by curbing free trade.
Chapman slammed Trump on June 29 in the Chicago Tribune for the policies Trump outlined in a speech on trade one day earlier. Trump advocated against globalization and the lowering of trade barriers brought about by free trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and World Trade Organization (WTO). Trump referred to his trade policy ideas as a path toward “Declaring America’s Economic Independence,” which he claimed would lead to increased economic activity that would “Make America Wealthy Again.”
Chapman chided Trump’s simplistic look at global commerce, saying, “It's a scam, skillfully pitched to fool the gullible,” and echoed criticism of Trump from economist and Economic Policy Institute (EPI) president Lawrence Mishel. While Mishel criticized Trump for whitewashing the Republican Party’s free trade legacy and ignoring progressive initiatives that would benefit American workers, Chapman pointed out that manufacturing output in the United States is actually “54 percent higher today” than it was when NAFTA went into effect in 1994 and “27 percent higher” than it was before China joined the WTO in 2001. Progressive organizations like EPI have highlighted the negative consequences that free trade arrangements have had on the American labor market -- specifically with regard to NAFTA and China -- but as Chapman notes, part of the decline in manufacturing employment is the result of greater efficiencies in production stemming from automation and technological advances; “companies have learned to produce more goods with fewer people.” From the Chicago Tribune (emphasis added):
The vision Trump conjures is one of alluring simplicity. He promises to achieve "economic independence" by abandoning globalization, instead using American workers to produce American goods. This change, he said, would "create massive numbers of jobs" and "make America wealthy again."
It's a scam, skillfully pitched to fool the gullible. His framework is a house of cards built on sand in a wind tunnel. Its most noticeable feature is a total divorce from basic economic realities.
In the first place, the expansion of manufacturing jobs is not synonymous with prosperity. As countries grow richer, manufacturing's share of employment declines. South Korea, singled out by Trump for killing American jobs, has seen it shrink by nearly half since 1991. Japan and Germany have followed a similar path.
But U.S. manufacturing output is 54 percent higher today than in 1994 and 27 percent higher than in 2001. Those years are pertinent because 1994 was the year NAFTA took effect and 2001 is the year China gained entry to the World Trade Organization — events Trump portrays as catastrophic for American industry.
Manufacturing jobs have vanished not because we don't manufacture anything but because companies have learned to produce more goods with fewer people. Higher productivity is what eliminated most of the jobs Trump mourns. He's no more capable of restoring them than he is of bringing back the dodo.
Blaming Mexico and China for the fate of our steel industry is like blaming email for the decline of telegrams. The biggest reduction in steel jobs came before the globalization of the past two decades. The number fell from 450,000 to 210,000 in the 1980s.
The total today is about 150,000. Even if Trump could manage the impossible feat of doubling the number of steelmaking jobs, it would be a blip in the overall economy — which adds more jobs than that every month.
The Economic Policy Institute Wants Nothing To Do With Trump's "Scam"
According to The Washington Post, the progressive economic think tank Donald Trump repeatedly cited during a recent speech on his trade policy agenda is slamming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for distorting the facts and ignoring other initiatives that would boost the economy -- all in an attempt to “scam” hard-working Americans.
During a June 28 speech at a metal recycling facility in Monessen, PA, Trump outlined a trade and manufacturing policy agenda that draws heavily from research performed by the progressive Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent was first to report that EPI president Lawrence Mishel rebuked Trump’s agenda for misleading the public on globalization and wage stagnation -- by blaming our trade policies for flat wages and fewer jobs -- while ignoring progressive initiatives like lifting the minimum wage, expanding overtime protections, and increasing union membership (emphasis added):
So it’s worth noting that the EPI — in a lengthy statement sent my way — now says that Trump’s account of what has happened to American workers in recent decades is simplistic in the extreme; that Trump is actually a lot more friendly to GOP economic orthodoxy than most observers have noted; and that Trump’s actual prescriptions fall laughably short of what needs to be done to help those workers.
Trump boasted in his speech that “under a Trump presidency, the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them,” and repeatedly accused Clinton and other politicians supported by financial elites of “betraying” American workers by prioritizing globalization over their interests.
But Lawrence Mishel, the president of the EPI, sent me a critique of the speech. Mishel noted that Trump’s account suggests that only government officials — particularly the Clinton administration and Democrats who supported trade deals such as NAFTA — are to blame for flat wages. He argued that Trump conspicuously left out the role of Republicans in this whole tale, as well as the business community’s use of its power to keep wages down and erode countervailing power on the part of labor.
As Sargent and Mishel note, Trump has appropriated a populist tone on international free trade agreements, but his other stated positions on tax and economic policy decidedly favor the corporatist right wing. The incongruity of Trump’s positions led Mishel to conclude his response by labeling Trump’s speech for what it was: “a scam.”
For months, Media Matters has documented how media have tended to gloss over Trump’s extremist positions with a misleading “populist” veneer. According to reports, his top economic policy advisers are discredited right-wing pundits Stephen Moore and Larry Kudlow -- known for their strict adherence to trickle-down economics, their willingness to distort reality for political gain, and their rank professional incompetence. Last September, right-wing media falsely labeled Trump’s tax reform plans a “populist” agenda when it was actually a budget-busting giveaway to the rich that wilted upon closer inspection. In April, experts slammed Trump’s proposal to eliminate the national debt in just eight years as “impossible” and “psychotic.” In May, Trump was criticized for his “insane” plan to default on U.S. federal debt, and then for his “disastrous” suggestion that the U.S. could solve its long-term debt problems by printing money.
Even in the case of free trade, Trump’s rhetoric may be populist, but experts and media critics argue that his positions are untenable. As CNN’s Ali Velshi pointed on during the June 29 edition of New Day, Trump’s attempt to solely blame the Clinton administration for jobs lost to globalization was “highly dishonest.” On the May 6 edition of New Day, CNN analyst Rana Foroohar slammed Trump’s nascent trade agenda as being “either a bad idea, or impossible.” (Furthermore, Trump’s penchant for comparing trade deals to the horrifying violence of “rape” leaves him far outside the rational mainstream of political discourse.)
As Sargent noted, Trump’s June 28 policy speech seemed to be an attempt “to stake out positions on trade and wages that are … perhaps even to the left of Hillary Clinton and Democrats.” MSNBC political reporter Benjy Sarlin and Fortune politics writer Ben Geier both argued in June 29 articles that the speech was an overt attempt by the GOP front-runner to court supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the runner-up in the Democratic presidential primary. Trump even quoted a common refrain from Sanders’ own stump speeches during a series of attacks on Clinton, saying she “voted for virtually every trade agreement that has cost the workers of this country millions, millions of jobs” -- a claim that PolitiFact labels as “half true” at best.
Given his previous extremist economic positions, Trump’s statements on trade -- which were chided by both the right-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce and left-leaning labor unions including the AFL-CIO -- seem to be born not of conviction, but rather of expedience.
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