Donald Trump

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  • Fake News Purveyors Cheer On, Echo Trump Team's Lies About Inauguration Crowd Size

    Many Of These Sites Use Google's Advertising Network

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Following demonstrably false statements made by President Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer that Trump's inauguration ceremony had “the largest audience to witness an inauguration," numerous websites that Media Matters has identified as purveyors of fake news cheered on Spicer for his comments or attempted to verify his false claims. Nearly all of these websites are still supported, in part, by revenue from Google’s advertising service and many attempted to brand mainstream media reporting about the crowds as “fake news.”

  • NY Times Remains Embroiled In Controversy Over Its 2016 Coverage Of Russia And Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Nearly three months after The New York Times published an influential report on the eve of Election Day insisting “law enforcement officials” had been unable to find concrete links between Russia and the Trump campaign – or find proof Russian operatives were trying to help get Trump elected -- Times editors are still grappling with the controversial coverage. They also remain slow to provide answers to critics who wonder how an article essentially clearing Trump and his associates of links to Russia -- which “hasn’t aged well,” as Chris Hayes put it -- made it into print during such a crucial juncture of the campaign.

    New questions have also been raised about the Times’ decision late in the campaign to sit on the story that Russian officials may have compromising information on Trump; information that was contained in a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official.

    Times executive editor Dean Baquet remains defiant and is lashing out at critics; even one who writes for the Times.

    As for Russia allegedly trying to help elect Trump, Media Matters recently highlighted the Times’ October 31 article, which was headlined, “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.”

    We noted that an avalanche of revelations have since confirmed the FBI did suspect there were ties between Russia and Trump during the campaign. And when it was published, it was gleefully endorsed by the conservative media as proof that any speculation of there being Russia-Trump connection had been debunked by Times.

    In real time, coming on the eve of the election, the article helped put the media brakes on the unfolding Russian hacking story; the same Russian hacking story that has since turned into a full-time Trump controversy.

    Last Friday, Times public editor Liz Spayd addressed the Times’ Russia-Trump coverage from last fall. Overall, she critiqued the paper’s work as being “timid,” and too often relying on the actions of law enforcement officials, rather than by the paper’s own investigative reporting.

    She was specifically critical of the paper’s handling of the explosive Trump dossier story, noting, “Only after learning from CNN that Trump and President Obama had been briefed on the document did The Times publish what it had known for months.”

    What had the Times known for months? Spayd spells out that Times reporters knew about the dossier, they interviewed its author, knew he was a legitimate former intelligence officer, and could find no “significant red flags” while trying to fact-check the dossier. Despite all that, the Times sat on the dossier story.

    Spayd suggests that part of the reason they didn’t run with the “explosive allegations” was that journalists didn’t think Trump was going to win the election, so the paper didn’t want to risk sparking a controversy by reporting on the dossier.

    Spayd’s appraisal echoes criticism she made last November, just days before the election, when she stressed the Times newsroom hadn’t given enough time and attention to the Russia hacking story. Times readers, she wrote, had been “shortchanged.” (By contrast, she noted the Times newsroom seemed “turbocharged” while covering the Hillary Clinton email saga.)

    The public editor’s most recent critique immediately sparked outcry from within the Times, leading to the odd spectacle of executive editor Baquet airing his complaints about Spayd’s column to the Washington Post. Denouncing Spayd’s critique as a “bad column” that reached a “fairly ridiculous conclusion” (“she doesn’t understand what happened”), Baquet vigorously defended the paper’s election season work on the Russia-Trump story, and stressed that he personally oversaw much of it.

    If that’s the case, Baquet should be able to answer some key, lingering questions about the Times’ misguided October 31 story about there being no evidence of Russia trying to help elect Trump during the campaign:

    • Does Baquet know who the unnamed “law enforcement” sources were who mislead the newspaper about the FBI not being to uncover any evidence of any Russia-Trump link?
    • If those sources lied to the Times, and especially if they did so for partisan reasons, does Baquet agree that the paper is under no obligation to protect their identity?
    • And were those sources part of an anti-Clinton cabal within the FBI, and specifically within the FBI’s New York bureau?
    • Are Times reporters today still using those untrustworthy sources?

    Banquet’s continued defensive posture is reminiscent of the strategy Times editors took in the wake of the Iraq War in 2003 when it became increasingly clear that the paper’s pre-war coverage had failed badly, especially its over-eagerness to help the Bush administration sell a story about the looming threat of Iraq WMDs. For a year, Times editors defended the paper’s performance.

    It wasn’t until May 26, 2004, that the Times published a mea culpa of sorts. (Days later, the paper’s public editor offered up a scathing critique of the newsroom’s effort during the run-up to the war.)

    Today, Banquet is taking the same approach regarding the Times and the Russian hacking story: The newspaper did nothing wrong and all questions ought to be dismissed.

    But they’re not. From Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to President Obama:

    Public editor Spayd made a good-faith effort to put the Times’ 2016 Russia-Times hacking coverage into perspective and to offer up an honest appraisal. It would be helpful if the Times leadership did the same.

  • NRATV Co-Host: Time To Scrub "Obama's Mocacchino Stain" Off America 

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Just two days after President Trump’s inauguration, Chuck Holton, co-host of NRATV’s Frontlines, wrote on Twitter that the “party’s over” and it's time to scrub “Obama’s mocacchino stain off of America!”

    “Mocacchino” is a term for a chocolate coffee drink -- and, in this case, an apparent reference to the former president’s race.

    Launched by the National Rifle Association in late October 2016 with the mission of providing “the most comprehensive video coverage of Second Amendment issues, events and culture anywhere in the world,” NRATV has largely served as a pro-Trump propaganda outlet.

    As part of NRATV’s programming schedule, Holton co-hosts the military-themed show Frontlines alongside Fox News contributor Oliver North.

    Holton has a history of making racially insensitive and sexist commentary. In a 2015 column for the NRA magazine America’s 1st Freedom, Holton attacked a State Department spokeswoman as "spokesperson barbie (sic)," and described her as one of various "clueless, poorly accessorized mouthpieces." During an August 2016 appearance on the NRA radio program Cam & Company, Holton referred to “white privilege” as “simply the culture that we have created, that our fathers and grandfathers have work hard to create” while lobbing numerous attacks against the black community.

    The January 22 tweet was also not Holton’s first inflammatory attack on Obama. On November 16, the NRATV co-host responded to a picture on Twitter of Obama and Trump shaking hands by calling the then-president a “pussy.” 

  • This Is How Media Botched ACA Headlines Again

    Media Need To Stop Falling For The Trump Soundbite Trap

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    News outlets rushed to report on President Donald Trump’s executive order on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without knowing what exactly it entailed, resulting in botched headlines that uncritically repeated the false claims made by the Trump Administration.

    Late on Friday night, Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced that Trump had signed his first executive order on the ACA claiming that it would “ease the burden of Obamacare as we transition from repeal and replace.” Even before the official text of the executive order was released, reporters rushed to file stories with wildly inaccurate headlines such as Politico’s “Trump signs sweeping order that could gut Obamacare” and The Washington Post’s “Trump signs executive order that could effectively gut Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.” Others just uncritically repeated Spicer’s framing, like NPR’s headline “Trump Signs Executive Order To 'Ease The Burdens Of Obamacare'.”

    In contrast to headlines suggesting an immediate, dramatic change to the ACA, the text of the executive order reveals that it amounts to a symbolic gesture indicating the dedication of the Trump Administration to dismantling the health care law -- a commitment already known, and one that Trump’s appointees could act on even without the order. These inaccurate headlines are the newest episode in a repeated pattern of news organizations failing to report the truth when covering Trump’s false and self-serving talking points.In the health care context, this pattern is particularly problematic given the massive impact of repealing the law and the degree to which Americans are uninformed about health care.

    These headlines falsely inflated the actual impact of the executive order even as the substance of many of these articles emphasized that the vague wording of the action cast doubt on its actual effects. For example, that same NPR article noted “it's not clear what kind of relief the executive order envisions.” The flawed Politico article emphasized “the order changes nothing immediately and doesn't spell out exactly what Trump would like his government to do,” an important piece of information that was left out of the article's headline.

    Numerous health care policy experts called out the news outlets for their flawed analyses, and underscored that this executive order caused no immediate policy changes and instead reflected “recycled campaign talking points” that amounted to a symbolic gesture until further action is taken. For example, Larry Levitt, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said “this order doesn’t in and of itself do anything tangible” but it sends “a signal that the Trump Administration is not waiting for Congress” on dismantling the ACA. Tim Jost, health law expert and law professor at Washington and Lee College, emphasized that law “doesn’t allow [Trump] to repeal the Affordable Care Act unilaterally” and noted that no action was likely “until the heads of HHS, Treasury, and probably Labor, as well as the CMS Administration and IRS Commissioner are in place.” Five Thirty Eight’s Anna Maria Barry-Jester explained that the executive action “does very little because it doesn’t grant the administration any powers that it didn’t already have” but that it did telegraph “that change is coming.”

    The flawed coverage of Trump’s first executive order is the latest in a trend of inadequate headlines in the coverage of the Republican Party’s moves on the ACA. During an interview with The Washington Post, Trump promised his ACA replacement will guarantee “insurance for everyone,” prompting a spate of headlines that uncritically repeated his vow, despite the fact that he has released no policy details, and all existing GOP replacement ideas would result in millions losing coverage. Similarly, when Trump’s nominee for the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, declared that “nobody is interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody,” news outlets made the headline his “vow” to not take away health care coverage, when in reality, Price’s own health care policy proposals would gut coverage and seriously degrade the health care system.

    News organizations repeatedly publishing flawed headlines are doing a disservice to their audiences, even if underlying reporting in their articles may accurately contextualize the headlining statements. 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.”

    The gravity of repealing the ACA and the relative lack of public comprehension of health care policy highlights the need for news outlets to do a better job in crafting their ACA headlines. The repeal of the ACA will result in millions losing health care, allow the return of medical underwriting which discriminates against women for being women and against individuals with pre-existing conditions, and will disproportionately impact the marginalized and vulnerable. ACA repeal affects all Americans, regardless of whether or not they get their insurance through the exchanges.

    Additionally, Americans remain confused about what the ACA actually does, as polls show high approval ratings for many individual parts of the ACA while largely disapproving of the law as a whole. A recent NPR poll showed that while most people knew the ACA covered individuals with pre-existing conditions, more than half of the respondents “didn't know that the ACA reduced the number of people who are uninsured to a record low” -- one of the biggest accomplishments of the law. The combination of the enormous impact of repeal combined with the confusion that pervades the health law means that news outlets must be more diligent in crafting headlines for ACA stories, since often that headline will be the only thing the general public reads.

  • Trump Team Blacklists CNN On The Sunday After Inauguration

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    President Donald Trump and his team continued their unprecedented attempts to delegitimize and blacklist CNN by refusing to have a representative appear on CNN’s Sunday political talk show, State of the Union, while booking appearances on the other major political talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co.

    At the top of the January 22 edition of CNN’s State of the Union, host Jake Tapper said that his show “asked the Trump White House for a member of the new administration to join us this morning, but they declined.” Members of Trump’s team including White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, however, made appearances on the other major Sunday political talk shows: This Week on ABC, Face The Nation on CBS, Meet the Press on NBC, and Fox News Sunday on Fox Broadcasting Co. Trump and his team have a long history of blacklisting reporters from events, most notably when Trump revoked The Washington Post’s press credentials during the Republican primaries.

    The Trump team’s presumed blackout of CNN comes after escalating attempts to delegitimize the network, brand it as “fake news,” and avoid questions from CNN reporters. During Trump’s first press conference as president-elect on January 11, Trump refused to take a question from CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, calling his network “fake news” and “terrible.” Following the event, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer admitted to threatening to remove Acosta from the press conference and later demanded an apology. Trump ally and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich responded to the incident by asserting that Trump should use the altercation to “shrink and isolate” CNN and eventually “close down the elite press.” Acosta and his colleagues from across the media condemned Trump’s treatment of CNN.

    On January 12, Trump doubled down on his attacks against the network, claiming on Twitter that CNN “is in a total meltdown with their FAKE NEWS” and that its “credibility will soon be gone.” Trump also pre-emptively attacked a CNN report on his daughter Ivanka, tweeting that CNN “of all places, is doing a Special Report on my daughter, Ivanka. Considering it is CNN, can’t imagine it will be great!”

    The Trump team’s refusal to appear on CNN came one day after it declined to air the live feed of Spicer’s first press conference after the inauguration, where Spicer blatantly lied about the size of inauguration crowds. According to Variety’s Brian Steinberg, “CNN’s refusal to take the live feed suggests executives there are reluctant to put false statements on air, and, what’s more, do not think the new White House press representative is entirely credible.” From the January 21 report:

    “CNN’s decision to not air the press conference live illustrates a recognition that the role of the press must be different under Trump. When the White House holds press briefings to promote demonstrably false information and refuses to take questions, then press ‘access’ becomes meaningless at best and complicit at worst,” said Danna Young, an associate professor at the University of Delaware who studies politics and the media. “Democracy works best when journalists have access to the executive branch, of course. But that holds true if and only if that access leads to verifiable, accurate information. The decision on behalf of CNN to wait and verify before airing it live suggests that the media are adapting quickly to this new era.”

    To be certain, news outlets routinely make decisions about whether to air press events live, usually based on projections about news value. But this press conference, held just a day after the President’s inauguration, would have been a hot prospect for a cable-news outlet, and could have sparked hours of debate and follow-up on CNN’s schedule.  In an unusual and aggressive maneuver, CNN aired its regular weekday lineup this Saturday, underscoring heavy interest in breaking news of a series of massive protests by women across the nation in response to Trump’s presidency as well as the new President’s first few days in office.

    For more on Trump’s attacks on the press, check out Media Matters’ First Amendment Watch.

  • The White House Press Secretary Just Declared War On Reality And The Press

    What's Next?

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    In a surreal turn, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tonight denied reality, lashed out at the press for its supposed “shameful and wrong” coverage of the size of the crowd that attended President Trump’s January 20 inaugural festivities, instructed the White House press corps on what they “should be writing and covering,” declared that the administration intended to “hold the press accountable,” and left the briefing room without taking questions.

    Spicer said that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period -- both in person and around the globe.” He is lying. Whether he’s doing it because Trump is making him or whether he actually believes it is immaterial. (In remarks to the CIA earlier in the day, Trump falsely claimed it “looked like a million, million and a half people” attended his inauguration. An estimated 1.8 million attended President Obama’s 2008 inauguration, while The Washington Post reports Trump's crowd was "somewhere closer to 600,000.")

    The official job of the White House press secretary now consists of blatantly lying to the press about matters great and small, and attacking them when they step out of line.

    This was a dominance display from a White House that clearly has no regard for the media’s role in the democratic process. Trump’s administration hates reporters who provide critical coverage and wants to crush them.

    The administration will seek to lift up openly sycophantic news organizations while crowding out and delegitimizing responsible ones. His media supporters’ calls to deny critical outlets “the privilege” of covering Trump seem to be in sight.

    Mother Jones’ David Corn has the question of the hour:

    Indeed. What’s next? The Trump White House just declared war on reality -- and on the press. How will they respond?

    This is exactly why Media Matters launched a petition calling on the White House Press Association to forcefully declare that they will “close ranks and stand up for journalism” against Trump’s attacks. It's time to stand up to the bullies.

  • “Hail Prez Trump!”: White Nationalist Media Celebrate Trump Inauguration

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Donald Trump took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural address, prominent white nationalist media figures cheered online.  

    White nationalists’ inaugural praise is the natural culmination of Trump’s presidential campaign, which engaged in a disturbing relationship with leading figures in the racist movement. Beginning with Trump’s announcement that he would run for president, white nationalist and neo-Nazi media figures and outlets have identified with his rhetoric and openly celebrated his policy ideas and attacks on marginalized groups.

    At every step of the way, members of the white nationalist hate movement -- white supremacists, virulent anti-Semites, and figures of the misogynist “alt-right” -- have been vocally supporting Trump. When Trump spoke at the Republican National Convention, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke said he “couldn’t have said it better.” When Trump appointed former Breitbart.com executive Stephen Bannon to a senior White House position, white nationalist radio host James Edwards exclaimed that, “With Trump, every day is Christmas.” When Trump picked Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to serve as his attorney general, the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer enthusiastically endorsed the “aggressive anti-Black racist.”

    Trump and his campaign have returned the favor by frequently dog-whistling to white nationalist groups, and rubbing elbows online and at events. Trump and his advisers have repeatedly shared tweets from white supremacist users and accepted donations from white nationalist leaders. Prominent white nationalist groups have even celebrated what they view as Trump’s role in reinvigorating support for their racist cause.

    Today as Trump “presented a dark vision of a nation afflicted by division and dislocation, exploited and forgotten by a group of Washington elites and diminished around the world,” they celebrated again.

    David Duke: “Hail Prez Trump!”; “We Did It!” White supremacist radio host and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke tweeted, “Hail Prez Trump!” and proclaimed, “We did it!”:

    Neo-Nazi Site Daily Stormer: “It’s Victory Day.” The neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, which frequently defends Adolf Hitler, attacks “kikes,” and has a section documenting the purported “Jewish Problem,” documented Trump’s inauguration in a post titled “It’s Victory Day.” The site’s founder and editor, Andrew Anglin, announced, “So, today is the day that all of our work comes to fruition. … It is still almost unbelievable that we pulled this off.”

    Hate Group Leader Richard Spencer: Trump’s Speech “Was Great” And “Really Special.” Richard Spencer, leader of the white nationalist hate group National Policy Institute, praised Trump’s inaugural remarks in a brief video posted to his Twitter account. Spencer concluded that the speech “was great” and “really special.”

    White Nationalist Video Blogger Paul Ray Ramsey: Trump Was “Kicking Ass.” Video blogger Paul Ray Ramsey (aka Ramzpaul), a white nationalist who the Southern Poverty Law Center says "has emerged as the hottest right-wing video blogger this side of former Klansman David Duke,” tweeted that Trump was “kicking ass” in his "wonderful" inauguration speech.

    Anti-Semitic Writer Hunter Wallace: Trump’s Inauguration Was “Awesome” And “Great.” Hunter Wallace, whose real name is reportedly Brad Griffin, is an anti-Semitic writer who is also a board member for the white supremacist hate group Council of Conservative Citizens. Wallace wrote on Twitter that he thought the inauguration was “awesome” and that Trump was “doing great.”

  • Media Should Report That President Trump Is Violating The Constitution -- And It's An Impeachable Offense

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    According to experts, President Donald Trump’s continued ownership interest in the Trump Organization means that he is in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from personally benefiting from actions taken by foreign governments and their agents. Will media hold Trump accountable for this impeachable offense or will they normalize his flagrant violation of the supreme law of the land?

  • Eight Things We Learned From Scott Pruitt’s EPA Confirmation Hearing

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), took part in a contentious hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on January 18. The hearing largely focused on Pruitt’s deep ties to polluting energy companies and track record of opposing the EPA’s clean air and water safeguards. Here are eight key moments from the hearing that are worthy of media attention.

    1. Pruitt doubled down on climate science denial, despite affirming that climate change is not a “hoax.”

    Coming into the hearing, Pruitt was on the record as a climate science denier who has refused to accept the consensus among climate scientists and the world’s leading scientific institutions that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are the main cause of global warming. Pruitt was given multiple opportunities during the hearing to clarify his views on climate science -- and he responded by doubling down on his climate science denial.

    In his opening remarks, Pruitt stated: “Science tells us that the climate is changing, and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.”

    Later in the hearing, Pruitt admitted that he does not believe climate change is a “hoax,” as Trump has claimed, but that doesn’t mean that he suddenly made an about-face and aligned his view with that of the world’s leading climate scientists. In response to a question from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who cited the 97 percent of climate scientists who say global warming is caused by human activities, Pruitt again asserted that “the ability to measure with precision the degree of human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it.”

    Finally, in response to further questioning from Sanders, Pruitt made the astounding proclamation that his personal opinion on the subject is “immaterial” to serving as the EPA administrator.

    2. Pruitt misled about the basis of his opposition to EPA safeguards against dangerous mercury pollution from power plants.

    Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin, and mercury pollution, which largely comes from coal- and oil-fired power plants, is particularly dangerous for children and expecting mothers. In 2011, the Obama administration issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to cut mercury pollution by requiring power plants to install proven and widely available pollution control technology. Pruitt responded by issuing a series of lawsuits to block the EPA’s mercury safeguards, including one lawsuit that is ongoing.

    During the hearing, Pruitt defended his lawsuits against the EPA’s mercury standards, despite acknowledging that mercury should be regulated by the EPA. At one point, following pointed questions by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Pruitt claimed that “there was no argument that we made from a state perspective that mercury is not a hazardous pollutant under Section 112 [of the Clean Air Act]. Our argument focused upon the cost-benefit analysis that the EPA failed to do.” In fact, Pruitt’s 2012 lawsuit against the EPA’s mercury standards did cite Section 112 and asserted that “the record does not support EPA’s findings that mercury … pose[s] public health hazards,” as Environmental Defense Fund’s Jeremy Symons pointed out.

    Moreover, Pruitt’s ongoing lawsuit against the EPA is based on a “rigged” cost-benefit analysis that “considers all of [the regulations’] costs, but only some of their benefits,” as the Union of Concerned Scientists has noted. The lawsuit claims that that EPA’s calculation of the financial benefits of the safeguards cannot include indirect benefits, such as reduced smog and sulfur dioxide, that would also be reduced by the pollution control technology used to cut mercury pollution -- even though the EPA accounted for indirect costs, such as higher electricity prices (in addition to direct costs like the expense of installing pollution controls).

    3. Pruitt refused to rule out blocking California’s clean car rules and other state-level pollution limits.

    During the hearing, Pruitt did nothing to assure progressive states that the Trump administration will not pre-emptively stop them from taking action to fight climate change and reduce pollution.

    First, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) noted that “the EPA has historically recognized California’s authority to issue new motor vehicle pollution standards that go above and beyond federal standards,” and she asked Pruitt whether he would commit to “recognizing California’s authority to issue its own new motor vehicle air pollution standards.” Pruitt replied that he would “review” the issue but refused to commit to upholding California’s right to set stronger pollution standards.

    Later, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) returned to this topic, noting that Pruitt wouldn’t commit to supporting the right of California, Massachusetts, and other states “to do what is best for global warming in their own states,” adding, “When you say ‘review,’ I hear undo.” Markey concluded that Pruitt has a “double standard” in which he says states like Oklahoma that agree with “the oil and gas industry perspective” have “a right to do what they want to do,” while states like California and Massachusetts may not have the right to “increase their protection for the environment” and reduce carbon pollution.

    4. Pruitt confirmed that he equates the interests of the oil industry with those of the people of Oklahoma.

    In 2014, The New York Times reported that Pruitt sent a letter to the EPA on state government stationery that accused federal regulators of overestimating industry air pollution, and that the letter was secretly almost entirely written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of the biggest oil and gas companies in Oklahoma. At the time, Pruitt responded to the controversy by declaring, “That’s actually called representative government in my view of the world.” During the hearing, Pruitt again confirmed that he equates representing the people of Oklahoma with representing the oil industry.

    Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) mentioned the letter, asking Pruitt if he would acknowledge that he “presented a private oil company’s position, rather than a position developed by the people of Oklahoma.” Pruitt replied that he “disagree[d]” with Merkley’s conclusion and asserted that the letter was “representing the interests of the state of Oklahoma” because it “was representing the interest of an industry in the state of Oklahoma, not a company.” Pruitt cited the fact that the oil industry is “a very important industry to our state” as justification for equating the industry’s position with that of the state.

    5. Pruitt claimed he didn’t solicit fossil fuel contributions for the Republican Attorneys General Association.

    Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) drilled down on Pruitt’s extensive financial ties to fossil fuel companies, including Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Murray Energy, and Devon Energy. At one point, Whitehouse asked Pruitt if he had ever solicited funds from those companies for the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), to which Pruitt answered, “I have not asked them for money on behalf of RAGA.”

    While it’s possible Pruitt’s claim is true, a document uncovered by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) shows that RAGA gave call sheets to Republican attorneys general to solicit funds from corporations, as CMD’s Nick Surgey noted. So the exchange is an important area for reporter follow-up, as the Natural Resources Defense Council’s John Walke explained.

    6. Pruitt refused to recuse himself from his ongoing litigation against the EPA, setting up an apparent conflict of interest.

    Sen. Markey asked Pruitt if he would recuse himself as EPA administrator from the lawsuits that he has brought against the EPA to overturn the agency’s clean air and water safeguards, adding that if Pruitt refused, “people are going to think that it’s not just the fox guarding the henhouse, it’s the fox destroying the henhouse.” Pruitt answered that he would recuse himself only “as directed by EPA ethics counsel.” Markey noted that Pruitt’s continued involvement in those lawsuits would create a “fundamental conflict of interest.”

    Later in the hearing, Sen. Harris pressed Pruitt on whether he has “discretion” to recuse himself from the cases, independent of what the ethics counsel says. After initially dodging the question, Pruitt acknowledged, “Clearly there’s a discretion to recuse.”

    7. Pruitt inflated his environmental credentials by misrepresenting two poultry industry cases.

    In addition to criticizing Pruitt’s efforts to overturn clean air and water protections, opponents of Pruitt’s nomination have pointed out the lack of evidence that he has taken any proactive steps to protect Oklahoma’s environment during his time as attorney general. For example, Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project noted in a New York Times op-ed, “During his six-year tenure, [Pruitt’s] office issued more than 700 news releases announcing enforcement actions, speeches and public appearances, and challenges to federal regulations. My organization could not find any describing actions by Mr. Pruitt to enforce environmental laws or penalize polluters.” 

    When the question of Pruitt’s environmental credentials arose during the hearing, Pruitt grossly exaggerated his record of holding polluters accountable by misrepresenting two poultry industry cases.

    First, noted anti-environment Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) invited Pruitt to explain “why you have become such a hero of the [Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission] people.” Pruitt replied by touting an agreement he reached with the state of Arkansas related to chicken manure pollution, declaring, “I actually reached out to my Democratic colleague Dustin McDaniel, the attorney general of the state of Arkansas, and we were able to negotiate an agreement that had phosphorous levels set at 0.037, scientifically driven and enforced on both sides of the border for the first time in history.”   

    But Pruitt’s agreement with Arkansas “didn’t take any steps to reduce pollution, but actually only proposes another unnecessary study and attempts to suspend compliance” for another three years of pollution, as Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) explained during the hearing. Indeed, as the Environmental Working Group noted, “Instead of fighting to enforce his state’s own water quality standards for phosphorus, [Pruitt] stalled. Pruitt’s 2013 amendment to the earlier agreement gave poultry polluters three more years to meet the goals established in 2003, plus an opening to weaken the standard by commissioning further study of the problem.”

    Later, Sen. Harris asked Pruitt if he could “name a few instances in which you have filed a lawsuit in your independent capacity as attorney general against a corporate entity for violating state or federal pollution laws.” Pruitt responded by citing a lawsuit against the Mahard Egg Farm, which he described as involving “the clean-up of a large hen operation that affected water quality.”

    However, parties on both sides of the lawsuit told ThinkProgress that the Mahard case “began years before he took office.” ThinkProgress further noted that while “Pruitt did technically file the case on behalf of Oklahoma, it was both filed and settled on the same day” after years of extensive negotiations that did not involve Pruitt, and it quoted Mahard’s lawyer as saying, “Nothing against AG Pruitt, but it was really a DOJ, EPA-driven process.”

    8. Pruitt passed the buck on addressing Oklahoma’s fracking-induced earthquakes.

    Citing Oklahoma’s “record-breaking number of earthquakes” that scientists attribute to the process of fracking for oil and gas, Sen. Sanders asked Pruitt if he could cite “any opinion that you wrote, any enforcement actions you took against the companies that were injecting waste-fracking water.” Pruitt replied that he was “very concerned” about the issue, but that “the corporation commission in Oklahoma is vested with the jurisdiction and they’ve actually acted on that.”

    However, although the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is responsible for regulating wastewater injection, experts told The Atlantic that “there were a number of legal questions on which Pruitt could have engaged” (emphasis original). Those include issuing a legal opinion on whether the commission could stop wastewater from coming from other states or join Pawnee residents in a class-action lawsuit against oil companies that they say are liable for the earthquakes. The Atlantic added that “while it is true that Pruitt does not regulate oil and gas extraction in Oklahoma, other attorneys general have involved themselves in difficult fracking cases.”

    Sanders concluded: “Your state is having a record-breaking number of earthquakes. You’ve acknowledged that you are concerned. If that’s the type of EPA administrator you will be, you’re not going to get my vote.”

    Kevin Kalhoefer contributed to this report.

  • How Years Of The Right-Wing Media’s Obama Hatred Paved The Way For Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    At noon today, Donald Trump will swear the oath of office and become president of the United States. His ascent would not have been possible without the years of vitriol that the right-wing media directed at his predecessor.

    That hatred of President Obama, and the related scorched-earth efforts to smother his agenda, prepared the way for Trump. Many Republican voters became, in the words of one conservative writer, “just increasingly divorced from reality” after spending years in the right-wing echo chamber.

    In the first months after Obama’s election, as the president sought solutions for the most immense economic crisis in decades, conservative media became completely unhinged. Violent, doomsday rhetoric and overt appeals to feelings of anger and paranoia in their audience became regular features of commentary across the full spectrum of the right-wing press. While the level of demagoguery waxed and waned over the years, the hatred and fear that had been unleashed never dissipated.

    The GOP establishment was all too willing to go along with “the rage and unreason of radio talkers” as long as they could keep them pointed at liberals. Then Trump came along, a candidate who had repeatedly questioned whether Obama was eligible to be president in the first place, and stole the base right out from under them.

    And once Trump was a major party candidate, he had a pretty good shot of becoming president, especially after receiving a massive volume of coverage from a press that was unwilling or unable to properly contextualize his candidacy.

    “I Hope He Fails” And Fox As “The Alamo”

    Five days before Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the nation was in dire straights. A financial crisis had sent the economy into a tailspin, triggering massive job losses and a plummeting stock market. The banking system was still on the brink of failure. The auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Americans were rightly frightened of the immense economic insecurity, but broadly supportive of the new president who promised to right the ship.

    But on January 16, 2009, Rush Limbaugh -- one of the most powerful voices in Republican politics -- told his millions of listeners that his “hope for the Obama presidency” was “I hope he fails.” In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity the day after Obama was sworn in, Limbaugh doubled down, saying: "We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president."

    Over the next few months, Limbaugh would continue to state that he wanted Obama to fail. When other prominent Republicans offered criticism of the radio host, he would blast them on his show; his audience would flood their offices with calls until they were forced to apologize. In a sign of things to come, even the chairman of the Republican National Committee had to grovel before the man with the microphone.

    That same month, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes sat down with another right-wing radio host, Glenn Beck. After spending two years at HLN, Beck was about to debut his new Fox show, and he was worried that Ailes might not be willing to give him the leeway to go after the incoming administration. “I see this as the Alamo,” Ailes reportedly told Beck. “If I just had somebody who was willing to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we'd be fine.” A partnership was struck.

    Fox executives later acknowledged that the network took “a hard right turn” after the election and become “the voice of opposition” to Obama.

    As a presidential candidate, Obama had frequently been subject to a hefty dose of conservative media vitriol. Given that Obama was the first black major party nominee and had the middle name “Hussein,” a lot of that vitriol was racist or aimed at falsely suggesting he was a Muslim. The fearmongering took off as the election approached, with conservatives baselessly warning that he would be a dictator.

    But in the first 100 days of his administration, following the lead of Limbaugh, Ailes, and Beck, the floodgates opened.

    One Hundred Days Of Hate

    As the Obama administration took control of the reins of government and began trying to halt the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the right-wing media reviews rolled in.

    The new president was a Marxist. And a fascist. And a Nazi. And a Maoist. And a Bolshevik. And a Trotskyite.

    “Is this where we’re headed?” asked Beck over a montage of photos of Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin.

    Obama’s aim was “destroying our economic system as we currently know it." His financial rescue plan was “Josef Stalin without the bloodshed.” It was also socialism. So was his economic recovery plan (unless that was really communism. Or fascism. It was definitely slavery). The auto industry rescue made him a mob boss. So did his labor proposal. His cabinet secretaries were Soviet commissars.

    According to one CNBC host, the big debate was over whether Obama was “the New Economic Policy Lenin or the initial storm-the-Winter-Palace Lenin.” Obama’s party was trying to create a “political dictatorship.” Possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials who had aided the use of torture were “show trials” that would turn the nation into a “banana republic.”  

    Obama was “enslaving” our children. His education plan was “Maoist.” He was striving to create “chaos and depression” among Americans. He was a vampire “going after the blood of our businesses.” His government was “a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state." He was “taking every tradition and institution that defined this country's greatness and trying to rip it to shreds.”

    He was “more sympathetic with the long-term goals of world communism, and … Muslim terrorists, than with any legitimate American goals." He was embracing “the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood” and preparing to “sell us out” to the Islamic world.

    He was trying to institute a one-world government by repealing the Declaration of Independence and taking the Constitution apart. “Those crazies in Montana who say, ‘We're going to kill ATF agents because the U.N.'s going to take over’” were “beginning to have a case.”

    Obama was an “existential threat.” He “hates” America and was “raping” it. It was time to talk about impeachment because the president was a “dictator.”

    After weeks of hearing that Obama was planning to destroy the country, right-wing media’s audience members were ready for action. They got their opportunity after CNBC contributor Rick Santelli’s denunciation of Obama’s housing plan from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade went viral on February 19, 2009; Santelli’s rant culminated in a call for viewers to join him to protest at a “Chicago Tea Party” on the shores of Lake Michigan.

    Within days, powerful national conservative organizations backed by corporate interests and wealthy right-wing donors started organizing a nationwide series of “Tax Day Tea Parties” to protest the Obama administration, leading up to and culminating on April 15.

    Fox News -- the “voice of opposition,” Ailes’ “Alamo” -- became the focal point, megaphone, and chief promoter of the nascent tea party movement.

    The network’s hosts and anchors championed the protests in dozens of segments and promos in the following weeks, hosting protest organizers for fawning interviews, providing their audience with protest dates, locations and website URLs, and encouraging viewers to join them at protests they were attending and covering. At times, these events were openly branded as “FNC Tax Day Tea Parties.” In turn, organizers used the scheduled appearance of Fox hosts to drum up more attendees.

    Fox’s abject support for the tea parties was a crucial element in their success. As we noted at the time, “Dozens of articles about tea parties in various cities reported that Fox News and its hosts helped influence, start, or turn out participants to local protests. In numerous cases, these reports quoted local participants or organizers stating they were motivated to join or start protests because of Fox News.”

    Again, this all happened in the first 100 days of Obama’s tenure.

    The years to come would see right-wing media flirt with a host of absurd Obama conspiracies; claim over and over again that he intended to create “death panels”; and try to bury Obama’s nominees under an avalanche of false smears. Fox News went all-in as the research and communications arm of the GOP. Glenn Beck called Obama a racist, used his paranoid anti-Obama rants to become a conservative grass-roots leader, attacked a liberal foundation with such heat that one of his heavily armed fans tried to storm its offices, lost all his major advertisers, and eventually left Fox. The “end of America as you know it” was always just around the corner.

    President Obama’s Marxist/communist/socialist/Leninist/Maoist/Trotskyite/Stalinist administration resulted in the longest streak of private sector job creation in our nation’s history, with more than 15 million private sector jobs created since the recession’s low point in 2010. Under his tenure, the stock market reached record highs, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than doubling since he was sworn into office.

    A Birther In The White House

    In the wake of Obama’s re-election, The Onion proposed that a “shrieking white-hot sphere of pure rage” would be the 2016 candidate “that would tap into Republicans' deep-seated, seething fury” after the GOP failed to oust Obama in 2012.

    It was a very funny joke and we all had a good laugh and then the Republicans nominated Donald Trump and he was elected president.

    Why Trump? Because, better than anyone else in the Republican field, he could appeal to the hatred of Obama that conservatives had spent years stoking.

    Who could do better than someone who had prominently, and repeatedly, questioned whether Obama had been born in the United States?

    Trump launched his recent political renaissance by hitching his wagon to the birther movement, a collection of fringe right-wing figures entranced by a racist conspiracy theory: Obama was not constitutionally eligible to be president because, in spite of all available evidence, he hadn’t really been born in this country. In this twisted worldview, Obama wasn’t just destroying the country -- he also had no right to its highest office in the first place.

    The birther movement would discredit itself again and again over the years, with adherents suggesting that they had uncovered Obama’s “real father,” claiming that the Certificate of Live Birth Obama produced during the 2008 presidential campaign was forged, releasing an obviously fake Kenyan birth certificate for Obama, and declaring that Obama was hiding his birth certificate because it revealed he was Muslim. But a big chunk of Republican voters, including a contingent of GOP members of Congress, still bought into the myth.

    Those conservatives were overjoyed when Trump came forward and became the leading voice of the birther movement, raising questions about Obama’s birth certificate in a series of 2011 interviews. Fox News promoted Trump’s claims in dozens of segments, and several of the network’s hosts joined in, suggesting that Obama’s birthplace was in doubt.

    Obama released his long-form birth certificate later that year. But Trump never backed down. He immediately suggested the document was fake, and he spent years promoting birther conspiracies in interviews and on Twitter.

    After years of listening to anti-Obama vitriol from right-wing talk radio and television hosts, conservatives wanted someone who could match that hate. They found him.

    And today, he’s the president.

  • New York Times: Trump Ally Roger Stone Under Investigation For Possible Russia Ties

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times is reporting that American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are investigating “intercepted communications” that potentially show ties between longtime Donald Trump ally Roger Stone and Russian officials.

    The report confirming the ongoing investigation comes after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election by hacking the Democratic National Committee, as well as reports that the FBI and five other intelligence agencies have been investigating whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided Trump’s presidential run.

    In July, reports surfaced that Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe, Carter Page, made almost his entire fortune off of investments in Russia. Soon after, NBC News reported on alleged payments to Donald Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from 2007-2012. Roger Stone, a racist, sexist conspiracy theorist -- who has previously claimed that there’s “greater freedom of the press” and expression in Russia than in the U.S. -- has now also been implicated as another one of Trump’s associates currently under investigation. Media Matters first exposed Stone in August 2016, after he claimed to be in contact with Julian Assange regarding an "October Surprise." In early October, Stone reassured anxious Alex Jones listeners that the "motherload" was coming.

    The report, which will appear in the January 20 edition of The New York Times, confirms that intelligence agencies are investigating “intercepted communications and financial transactions” between Russian officials and Trump allies Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page. The report notes that the “continuing counterintelligence means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him.” From The New York Times:

    American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.

    The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.

    The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.

    [...]

    The F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Manafort began last spring, and was an outgrowth of a criminal investigation into his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for the country’s former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. In August, The Times reported that Mr. Manafort’s name had surfaced in a secret ledger that showed he had been paid millions in undisclosed cash payments.

    The Associated Press has reported that his work for Ukraine included a secret lobbying effort in Washington aimed at influencing American news organizations and government officials.

    Mr. Stone, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, said in a speech in Florida last summer that he had communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published the hacked Democratic emails. During the speech, Mr. Stone predicted further leaks of documents, a prediction that came true within weeks.

    In a brief interview on Thursday, Mr. Stone said he had never visited Russia and had no Russian clients. He said that he had worked in Ukraine for a pro-Western party, but that any assertion that he had ties to Russian intelligence was “nonsense” and “totally false.”

  • First Amendment Watch: January 2017

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks Trump and his team made against the media -- and instances in which they demonstrated disregard for the press -- from January 1, 2017, up to his January 20 inauguration as president.