Fox figures are supporting fellow Fox host and debate moderator Chris Wallace and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s argument that moderators should not fact-check candidates during the presidential debates, suggesting that “it’s not the job” of moderators and that it would be “crazy” to think otherwise. Yet fact-checking services have found that 70 percent of Trump’s claims are “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire” lies.
CNN’s Jake Tapper was the only Sunday show host on September 25 to discuss a report that American intelligence officials are probing Russian government ties to a man Trump has identified as a foreign policy adviser, Carter Page. This latest revelation is yet another missed opportunity by the Sunday political talk shows to feature investigative stories about Trump and his campaign over the past month.
On September 23, Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reported that “U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials.” Among the problematic contacts Page has reportedly had with aides to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is Igor Diveykin, who “is believed by U.S. officials to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election.” The article also quoted a Trump spokesperson calling Page an “‘informal foreign adviser’” to Trump.
In an interview with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway on CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper cited the Yahoo! News article and questioned Conway if the campaign had talked to Page about his meetings with Russian officials. Conway denied that Page was part of the Trump campaign at this time and said that he was not authorized to talk to Russia on the campaign’s behalf.
The other Sunday hosts -- NBC’s Chuck Todd, CBS’ John Dickerson, Fox’s Chris Wallace, and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos -- who interviewed Trump adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, and Conway, respectively -- all failed to question their Trump surrogate guests about the report. The only other mentions of the report on the Sunday shows were from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s surrogates, with Clinton running mate Tim Kaine alluding to the “news of this past week [that] shows us a whole series of very serious questions about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia” on CBS’ Face the Nation, and Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon mentioning Page on CNN’s Reliable Sources.
The near blackout of this story from the Sunday shows is turning into a familiar pattern regarding investigative reports on Trump. Over the past month, the Sunday political talk shows have repeatedly failed to feature new reporting that reflects poorly on Trump. On September 4, just days after The Washington Post broke the story that Trump’s foundation illegally gave a political donation in 2013 and that Trump paid the IRS a penalty for it, only CBS’ Dickerson brought it up; on other shows, guests were forced to mention it. The next week, as they were all covering the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, every Sunday show completely ignored the New York Daily News’ investigation that revealed Trump unethically accepted $150,000 in government aid after the attacks and that Trump bragged that one of his buildings was now the largest in the area just hours after the 9/11 attacks. And just last week, the Sunday shows again mostly omitted new reporting on Trump, specifically the news that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was investigating Trump’s charitable foundation over concerns of impropriety and Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek report that detailed the “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” that would be present in the foreign policy of a President Trump due to his deep business ties to foreign countries and businesspeople.
The report on Page also follows Trump’s repeated praise of Putin, who he has called “highly respected within his own country and beyond,” later adding that if Putin “says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” Journalists have slammed Trump for his remarks, noting the country has targeted and murdered journalists.
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The 2016 presidential debates will kick off on September 26, giving voters one of their last chances to judge the candidates on the substance and breadth of their policy proposals. With over 100 million people expected to watch, the stakes could not be higher. Voters are mere months away from selecting the person who will become the president of the United States and whose actions will have an immense impact on their everyday lives. Informing this decision is a responsibility that media cannot afford to take lightly.
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Fox hosts claimed that after five years pushing the racist birther conspiracy theory, Trump admitting Obama was born in the United States “put to rest” Trump’s history of birtherism.
MSNBC And CNN Debunked Trump’s Lies, Explained How Trump Mainstreamed Birtherism, And Condemned His Manipulation Of The Press
Fox News championed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s latest statement that he believes “President Obama was born in the U.S.” as “political media genius” while CNN and MSNBC noted that Trump’s latest statement follows years of mainstreaming racist birther conspiracy theories, debunked the candidate’s attempt to blame the birther lies on Hillary Clinton, and decried his manipulation of the press.
After Donald Trump in a September 15 interview with The Washington Post “refused to say whether he believes Obama was born in Hawaii,” the Trump campaign released a falsehood-laden statement saying “Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States,” and “was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion” in 2011.
The next day Trump announced he’d deliver a “major statement” at his new Washington, D.C. hotel regarding whether he’d acknowledge Obama as an American. Reporters speculated that the Trump campaign’s strategy behind the much-anticipated September 16 event was to put to rest scrutiny about Trump’s years-long birther enthusiasm and to “remove the last vestiges of an issue Clinton campaign could attack on.”
The major cable news networks provided wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s event, in which his seconds-long statement that “President Obama was born in the United States” came at the very end of a lengthy campaign event featuring military members endorsing Trump, and it included the false claims that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton started the birther conspiracy and that he ended it. Immediately after the statement, anchors on CNN and MSNBC called the candidate out for manipulating the press and for pushing falsehoods. On CNN, Ashleigh Banfield slammed the stunt and excoriated Trump’s “birther crap.” John King on At This Hour with Berman and Bolduan acknowledged the media “got played,” debunked Trump’s false accusation against Clinton, and condemned Trump for the “four or five years of leading a fraudulent, reckless campaign against the legitimacy of the United States president.” MSNBC used an on-screen graphic to single out Trump’s lie that Clinton started the birther movement, and during The Place for Politics, host Peter Alexander pointed out that Trump continued to give oxygen to birtherism even after President Obama released his birth certificate, saying “it’s not like he put this thing to rest” in 2011.
In contrast, Fox News dove head first into the trap set by the Trump campaign. Happening Now host Jenna Lee declared Trump gave “the media what everyone was waiting for, his definitive comments about the quote, unquote ‘birther issue.’” Lee’s co-host Gregg Jarrett commended Trump for being “very precise, and direct and disciplined.” Fox guest Glenn Hall, a Wall Street Journal editor who set the stage before the event by praising Trump for “pivoting” away from birtherism, added that Trump “handled that pretty well.”
Later, an Outnumbered on-screen graphic drew false equivalences claiming that Trump and Clinton were “blam[ing] each other” on the matter. Co-host Melissa Francis opined “nobody cares about these issues” and raved that Trump’s stunt was “political media genius,” while co-host Harris Faulkner dismissed the racist nature of birtherism by questioning “why is it racist” to question legitimacy “with Barack Obama and not with Ted Cruz?”:
And on Shepard Smith Reporting, Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday who was tapped to moderate the third presidential debate, said that unlike with some of his other outrageous incidents, “This one, in less than 24 hours, he cut it off.” Wallace’s determination that Trump’s statement shut the door on the birther issue flatly omitted any mention of Trump’s years of leading the charge in promoting such conspiracy theories.
By declaring that Trump can put years of birtherism to rest by just saying he believes Obama is American, Fox News comes full circle. The network enthusiastically echoed Trump’s years-long, racist crusade to raise doubts about President Obama’s legitimacy, and provided Trump with a friendly platform to promote his birther beliefs. The press cannot allow the Trump campaign to play revisionist history with its candidate’s embrace of birtherism despite his intentions to put it behind him before the presidential debates.
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On Wednesday, Donald Trump continued to stonewall reporters and voters interested in learning more about his medical history. Adhering to his penchant for secrecy, Trump ignored the long-running protocol for presidential nominees to provide voters with a medical background and professional assurance about their health.
Trump tried to dance around that disclosure norm by appearing at a taping of Dr. Oz to release some medical information to the daytime television host. (“From an investigative reporter's perspective, we continue to be played by the Trump campaign,” noted CNN’s Drew Griffin yesterday.)
Watching the spectacle unfold on Wednesday, amidst widespread speculation over what happened at the taping and as the Trump’s campaign sent conflicting signals about what would exactly be revealed during the Thursday airing of the Dr. Oz episode and how many documents would be released, Fox News’ Chris Wallace announced that Trump had seized the transparency initiative over Hillary Clinton.
Wallace touted how Trump was “disclosing medical records on Dr. Oz” and “being transparent.” In fact, “At this point, the health transparency gap now works in Trump's favor because of the Dr. Oz incident,” the Fox News Sunday host insisted.
But none of that was accurate. The Trump campaign likely wanted to project the image it was “disclosing medical records on Dr. Oz” and “being transparent.” But that wasn’t the case on Wednesday. In fact, on Wednesday Trump was still refusing to publicly release any relevant medical information, which meant he clearly trailed the “transparency gap” as compared to Clinton.
The day after Wallace’s comments, Trump’s campaign did release a three-paragraph letter from the candidate’s doctor who briefly summarized Trump's health.
Last December, Trump previously released a letter from the same doctor. But that missive was widely ridiculed as being nearly worthless in terms of pertinent information. And Trump’s doctor later conceded he had spent just five minutes writing the note, which he did as a limousine that the Trump campaign had sent over to retrieve the document idled outside.
So at the time of Wallace’s Trump defense on Wednesday, the only information the candidate had disclosed was a rather nutty note from his doctor. Yet Wallace insisted Trump was winning the “transparency” battle with Clinton.
Normally, Wallace’s misleading commentary might just be written off as more Fox News spin for Trump. The problem is, Wallace isn’t just any talking head. He’s been selected to be the sole moderator of the final presidential debate on October 19 in Las Vegas. (Wallace represents the first Fox anchor ever selected to host a general election presidential debate.)
The fact that Wallace pitched in to help the Trump campaign this week by suggesting Trump had earned the transparency advantage raises additional doubts about his moderating duties. What if during the debate Wallace turns to Clinton and asks her why she hasn’t been as “transparent” as Trump in releasing medical information? What if Wallace introduces other anti-Clinton falsehoods like that while he’s moderating?
Keep in mind, Wallace has already stated publicly that he won’t fact-check candidates during the debate. (“It’s not my role.”) The odd concession raised deep concerns, especially since Trump has rewritten the rules for political prevarications this cycle.
Also troubling was the fact that for two decades Wallace worked for Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who left the channel in disgrace amidst allegations of sexual harassment, and who is now reportedly advising Trump for his debate preparation. Said Wallace of Ailes this summer, “Roger Ailes is the best boss I’ve had in almost a half a century in journalism. I admired him tremendously professionally, and loved him personally.”
So Wallace has been actively spinning for Trump regarding “transparency,” won’t fact-check Trump at the debate, and has been close friends with Trump’s debate adviser.
What could possibly go wrong?
CNN recently reported that in choosing the four debate moderators this election season, “The last thing the [Debate] Commission wants is for the moderator to become part of the story about a debate.”
By selecting Wallace, the Commission has failed.
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Politico reported that according to network news executives, presidential debate moderators Chris Wallace of Fox News and Lester Holt of NBC were chosen with the intention of keeping Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump comfortable and to ensure he shows up.
Trump has repeatedly complained that the media is biased against him, even as the coverage of his scandals is minimized under the pretense of false balance. Trump’s complaints also reportedly made the commission struggle to select moderators. The moderator choices, which excluded Latino journalists but included Fox’s Wallace despite his glaring conflict of interest, seem to indicate Trump successfully influenced the debate commission. Wallace has publicly acknowledged he has no intention of becoming “a truth squad” for the candidates during the debates and has in the past twice enabled Trump to lie about his stance on the Iraq war during live interviews on Fox.
A September 12 Politico article reported that media executives share the belief that the debate commission took Trump’s feelings into consideration in the choice of NBC’s Lester Holt “who Trump is comfortable with” and believe Wallace “was tapped to moderate the third and final debate to lessen the likelihood that Trump skips it.” As reported by Politico:
Indeed, the media industry as a whole has become addicted to the television ratings and higher click-rates generated by Trump. And among media executives, the treatment of Trump by some networks and reporters is directly related to the leverage he holds, and he knows it.
“[Trump] is personally more involved in the process than most candidates are or at least admit to be,” said one network news executive, granted anonymity to speak privately. “His team is very keen on making sure he’s comfortable with who the interviewer is and the placement of the news cycle. He understands news very well. He’s more involved directly in booking than a typical candidate has been. They say yes a lot more, that’s not a surprise, a lot more than Hillary.”
While that executive said Trump asks for specific anchors or moderators less than others, the GOP nominee is clear about which ones he prefers. It’s hard to envision Trump agreeing to last week’s NBC forum were Rachel Maddow or Chuck Todd asking the questions. And there is wide speculation among media executives that NBC’s Lester Holt, who Trump is comfortable with, was chosen to moderate the first debate with Clinton later this month in order to appease the GOP nominee. Similarly, some also believe that Fox News’ Chris Wallace was tapped to moderate the third and final debate to lessen the likelihood that Trump skips it.
In February, CBS News president Les Moonves’ admission that Trump’s campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS” laid bare the motivation behind many networks non-stop Trump coverage and the imperative of keeping him reasonably happy.
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Flashback: Wallace Has Enabled The Lie Twice Before
Fox News’ Chris Wallace has previously failed to fact-check Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s brazen lie that he opposed the Iraq War, raising further concerns about how Wallace will moderate the third and final presidential debate.
Wallace has twice before let Trump lie about his opposition to the Iraq War -- a claim that has been proved false time and time again. On February 21, when Trump appeared on Wallace’s Fox News Sunday, Wallace let the candidate say he “was against” the Iraq War “at the beginning” while offering no pushback; and on March 13, Wallace again let Trump’s claim that he “was against the war in Iraq … I’m one that said don’t go in” go unchallenged.
Wallace’s complicity in enabling Trump’s lie is troubling given that he has been tapped as moderator for the final debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and that he has said it’s not his “job to be a truth squad” when moderating. Trump took the news that Wallace wouldn’t fact-check the candidates during the debates well, telling Larry King, “I can understand him saying that. … I think that the candidates should police themselves.”
Wallace’s previous disregard for Trump’s recurrent lie is even more concerning given the conflict of interest tethered to Wallace’s role as a moderator. As Media Matters founder David Brock wrote to the Commission on Presidential Debates, former Fox CEO Roger Ailes’ position advising both Trump and Rupert Murdoch -- the head of Fox’s parent company and Wallace’s boss -- represents a “glaring conflict of interest” that infringes on the credibility of any Fox News moderator. Brock has asked the commission to reconsider Wallace as a moderator.
Given NBC host Matt Lauer’s heavily criticized, fact-challenged moderation during a national security forum -- where he, too, let Trump lie about his previous Iraq War stance -- it’s crucial that the debate moderators stamp out Trump’s mendacity and ensure a fact-based debate.