The press failed to accurately convey the implications of a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the lead-up to the election. Now that Donald Trump is the president-elect, media must improve their health care coverage by contextualizing their stories about a potential ACA repeal and explaining the impact it would have on millions of Americans and the health care system as a whole.
A recent Media Matters study found that in the weeks leading up to the election, television journalists overwhelmingly failed to ask any substantive questions about Trump’s health care policies or the consequences of repealing the ACA. In the two weeks before Election Day, there were only four instances of broadcast or cable news hosts or reporters bringing up a substantive question about Trump’s supposed Obamacare replacement amid 77 segments ostensibly focused on health care. This was not the first time media failed to inform the public about the Republican Party’s extremist health care policy agenda. Another Media Matters study found that evening news shows virtually ignored Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s resurrection of his Medicare privatization scheme, a proposal that could have dangerous consequences for a program relied on by more than 55 million Americans.
During the campaign, media outlets also lauded Trump for giving a so-called “policy” speech on health care, ignoring that the actual speech contained little to no policy specifics. This lack of attention to detail reflects a broader theme in election coverage, as studies found media overwhelmingly avoided substantive discussion of policy, focusing instead on “scandals” plaguing the Republican and Democratic nominees.
While cable and broadcast news tended to avoid robust discussions of the impact of health care policy, right-wing media filled the void with rampant misinformation. Since the ACA passed in 2010, conservative news outlets have consistently attacked the health law with complete fictions, claiming it will explode the budget, create death panels, bankrupt Medicare, end in a “death spiral,” and facilitate a government takeover of the health care system.
Today, media outlets regularly provide Trump surrogates with free airtime to push misinformation and avoid substantive discussion. In a series of January 3 interviews, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway was given a free pass on health care policy by ABC’s Good Morning America, which neglected to even bring up the looming repeal of Obamacare. NBC’s Today and CNBC’s Squawk Box failed to push Conway with follow-up questions about how exactly the incoming administration plans to maintain popular health care reforms while repealing the law that created them. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Conway was allowed to push vague proposals for creating health savings accounts and allowing insurers to sell across state lines (both proposals have been highly criticized). When asked if the replacement plan is “ready to go,” Conway deflected by suggesting that planning could not start until Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is confirmed. The Morning Joe hosts failed to raise questions about the potential impact of the policies she promoted and allowed her to deflect from questions about the replacement plan to the irrelevant question of cabinet nominations.
Trump and congressional Republicans pledged to make repeal of the ACA one of their top priorities, which means the press must immediately rethink its strategy when covering health care policy and focus on specifics. Media outlets must contextualize the impact of repealing Obamacare in terms of the gains that have already been achieved and how those improvements will be affected or reversed by Republican policies. Health care policy is inherently complex and confusing -- it’s the media’s job to break down the complexity and explain how repealing Obamacare will impact the lives of every American.
The implementation of the ACA resulted in a record low number of uninsured Americans -- 8.6 percent in September 2016, down from 16 percent in 2010. According to estimates from the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20 million Americans have gained health care coverage as a result of the law.
The ACA’s expansion of Medicaid extended health care coverage to more than 14 million low-income Americans. Studies of the expansion showed that it helped to combat income- and race-based coverage disparities in the insurance market, improved access to coverage for people with disabilities, and significantly improved state budgets in states that accepted federal funds for the expansion.
The implementation of the ACA significantly improved the condition of women’s health care coverage in the U.S. The ACA’s preventive services provision greatly improved access to birth control by eliminating copays -- expanding coverage to millions of women and dramatically reducing out-of-pocket costs. The ACA banned sex discrimination in health care, and put a stop to the widespread practice of “gender rating” in which health insurance companies charged women higher rates for comparable plans made available to men. The law also improved access to maternity care by classifying it as an essential service.
Repeal of the ACA would permit the return of discriminatory practices like gender rating, reducing overall access to health care and significantly increasing out-of-pocket health care costs for women.
The ACA helped the fight in achieving LGBTQ equality by dramatically improving access to health care for LGBTQ patients often targeted by discriminatory practices (like dropping individuals with pre-existing conditions), prohibiting sex discrimination, and guaranteeing protections to married same-sex couples regardless of the state in which they reside. Studies have shown that the ACA has reduced the number of uninsured LGBTQ people and decreased health disparities in the LGBTQ community. The law provided marketplace insurance subsidies to nearly 732,000 individuals, and its expansion of Medicaid was particularly beneficial to LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately likely to experience poverty and homelessness.
Repeal of the ACA would allow insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of gender, strip coverage for transgender people and transition-related care, and increase the number of uninsured people by repealing the marketplace subsidies and Medicaid expansion.
The ACA has extended the solvency of Medicare by over 10 years, despite false claims to the contrary from right-wing opponents of the program. Discussions of Medicare’s budget outlook typically refer to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance program -- which covers hospital visits, nursing care, and other medical costs. Studies have shown that the ACA has extended the full budgetary solvency of the Hospital Insurance program through 2028, after which “payroll taxes and other revenue will still cover 87 percent of Medicare hospital insurance costs.” In addition to enhancing Medicare’s budget outlook, the ACA improved senior care by reducing prescription costs and extending coverage to key services.
Medicare spending will increase by $350 billion over the next decade if Congress repeals the ACA, accelerating the program’s insolvency. Potential plans to privatize Medicare will gut access to care and cause skyrocketing health care costs for the elderly.
Implementation of the ACA has reduced the budget deficit even more than was originally predicted by the Congressional Budget Office. Studies have shown that since the implementation of the ACA, while premiums have increased steadily, the number of individuals struggling to pay medical bills has steadily declined. While costs overall increase, they have increased by a much smaller margin than they would have if the ACA had not been enacted. Additionally, the ACA helps to combat economic inequality in the U.S., as it increases incomes in low-income households by reducing health care costs through mechanisms like the Medicaid expansion.
The ACA helps to fight the significant health disparities among Americans, expanding minority access to free preventive care, improving the overall quality of care in minority communities, and reducing the number of uninsured persons of color. The ACA invested in community health centers, whose patients are primarily minorities. The ACA provided the foundation for other efforts to combat inequities in the health care system for communities of color, including the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.
The ACA banned health insurance companies from engaging in medical underwriting, most commonly known as discriminating against individuals for pre-existing conditions. If the ACA were repealed, an estimated 50 to 129 million individuals -- or between 19 and 50 percent of non-elderly Americans -- could be denied access to affordable health care coverage for a pre-existing condition. This fundamental reform protects millions of Americans from being needlessly priced out of the insurance market or denied coverage for common conditions like acne or cataracts.
Despite some claims that a Republican-sponsored replacement package could maintain the pre-existing conditions ban, existing potential plans significantly weaken consumer protections and fail to maintain the same level of coverage provided by the ACA.
The ACA substantially increased the number of insured young adults -- by 5.5 million individuals -- by allowing them to remain on their parent’s health insurance plan until the age of 26. Given the high unemployment rate for people ages 18-29, this provision provides a crucial lifeline to that demographic.
While this rule is one of the most popular parts of the ACA, proponents of repeal have yet to explain how they could keep this provision while getting rid of the other parts (like the insurance mandate) that help pay for it.
The ACA greatly expanded coverage of mental health care services by requiring that most plans -- including all plans sold in the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplaces -- cover mental health services, classifying them as essential services. By eliminating medical underwriting and requiring parity between mental and physical health services, the ACA extended coverage to those who were previously refused on the basis of their mental health issues.
While the mental health coverage in the ACA is far from perfect, repeal will undercut the law’s achievements, gut coverage for tens of millions of people with mental illnesses, and roll back other positive gains in related mental health legislation.
Media Explain Trump’s Decision: “Kudlow Isn’t An Economist, But He Plays One On TV”
President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering CNBC financial pundit and conservative political commentator Larry Kudlow to replace economist Jason Furman as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA). Kudlow built his career in conservative media as an advocate of failed trickle-down economic policies, and he is notorious for making faulty predictions and sharing misleading analyses. He may soon be rewarded for those efforts with one of the most prestigious economic jobs in the United States.
According to a December 15 report from The Detroit News, discredited right-wing economic pundit and Trump adviser Stephen Moore told the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce that the president-elect planned to name Kudlow as the chairman of the CEA before the end of the week. Moore later told the paper that he “misspoke” and that Kudlow is “on the short list” for a CEA appointment, but it is not “a done deal.”
As The Washington Post pointed out, Kudlow’s rumored consideration for a key White House appointment is “another unorthodox pick” for the incoming administration because Kudlow “lacks a graduate or undergraduate degree in economics and has not written scholarly papers on the subject.” As has been the case with more than a dozen Trump appointees and rumored selections, Kudlow’s primary qualification for serving as the president’s chief economist is that “he plays one on TV,” as David Dayen explained in The Nation:
The overriding quality necessary for landing a position in Donald Trump’s administration is that Trump has to know you from TV. Most of his cabinet selections have logged plenty of time in cable-news green rooms.
So in that context, floating Larry Kudlow to run the Council of Economic Advisers is perfectly apt. Kudlow isn’t an economist, but he plays one on TV. And more important, he confidently (and usually wrongly) favors what has to be seen as the dominant economic gospel of the Trump administration: tax cuts.
Over the course of his long career as a right-wing media personality, Kudlow has become synonymous with the failed trickle-down economic agenda favored by conservative politicians. He has also established a track record of being “usually wrong and frequently absurd” with faulty predictions and analysis that could undermine the economic security of hardworking Americans. As outlined by The Huffington Post, Kudlow’s “spectacular record of wrongness” may be what makes him a “perfect” adviser for Trump.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), an award-winning nonprofit research organization that is perhaps best-known for determining a chronology of American business cycles and recessions, the Great Recession began in December 2007. Yet Kudlow published blogs on December 5, 6, and 7 of that year titled “The Recession Debate Is Over,” “There Ain’t No Recession,” and “Bush Boom Continues,” in the conservative National Review. By July 2008, as the unemployment rate continued to balloon in the seventh month of recession, Kudlow was still arguing in National Review that there was no recession or housing crisis. In May 2016, having finally come to terms with reality of the housing crash, Kudlow co-authored an op-ed in the right-wing Washington Times blaming Bill and Hillary Clinton because of a legislative initiative in the 1990s that made lines of credit more accessible to low-income families.
During a March 2016 appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Kudlow participated in a panel discussion where he lectured single parents in low-income families about poverty despite professing to have “virtually no knowledge in this field.” He bragged that he is "ignorant" of many issues facing such families, but said he felt he could speak to them because "there's enough documentation for ignorant people" to talk effectively about the supposed cause-effect relationship between poverty and single parenting. In November 2014, Kudlow spoke on the same subject at the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. Kudlow also used his National Review blog to promote a column by right-winger Cal Thomas that praised his misleading remarks. Kudlow’s position that marriage is a silver bullet solution to poverty is common among right-wing media personalities and conservative politicians, but the idea has been completely discredited by experts.
In a June 2002 column, Kudlow lamented that “the economy is doing fine but the stock market is slumping” and argued that “decisive shock therapy to revive the American spirit would surely come with a U.S. invasion of Iraq.” Kudlow apparently hoped newfound wartime confidence and a surge of military spending would inflate the economy, but as economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) concluded in a May 2007 report on the economic impact of the Iraq War, “Military spending drains resources from the productive economy.” Kudlow’s views Middle Eastern warfare and the stock market were not isolated in Iraq, in an August 2006 column, he claimed that “global investors are cheering Israel’s advance” in a war against Lebanese fighters that left thousands of soldiers and civilians killed or injured.
Media Matters conducted a study of CNBC’s coverage of climate change in 2013, finding that several CNBC figures, including Kudlow, denied the science of man-made climate change altogether. Kudlow attempted to further muddy the waters on climate science in an October 2014 blog by hyping a deeply flawed op-ed published by the conservative Wall Street Journal that misleadingly claimed “Climate Science Is Not Settled.” Kudlow’s continued aversion to the scientific consensus on climate change presents problems for U.S. economic stability, as dozens of business and industry leaders have already begun taking climatic shifts into account in their long-term planning.
One of the few economic policies at the core of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was his opposition to major international trade deals. He spent months attacking his opponents for their support of free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and promised to immediately withdraw from the deal after taking office. Kudlow has been a major TPP supporter and wrote in a May 1, 2015, column for National Review that “Obama deserves credit” for trying to get the deal signed and ratified. In a March 11 column for CNBC, in which he responded to severe criticism from fellow conservatives, Kudlow stated, “I continue to oppose Donald Trump’s trade policies.”
NBC's Financial Relationship With The President-Elect Puts Its Reporters In An Impossible Situation
NBC and its parent company, Comcast/NBCUniversal, have put the network’s news division in an impossible situation by entering into a financial agreement with the next president of the United States. As NBC News reporters grapple with the announcement that President-elect Donald Trump will remain an executive producer on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, many aren't discussing the intolerable conflicts of interest this business arrangement poses to NBC. In this deal, NBC will have a fiduciary relationship with the president, making it financially invested in Trump’s reputation -- a situation that threatens to compromise the news division’s political reporting. The arrangement is now providing a case study in how conflicts of interest affect the quality and the integrity of reporting.
Variety reported on December 8 that Trump will stay on as an executive producer of Celebrity Apprentice. As Media Matters pointed out, because of the business relationship, NBC is now financially invested in Trump's reputation and will have an incentive to weigh aggressive reporting about Trump across its news platforms against what the network mighty lose in revenue if Trump's reputation is damaged. The arrangement implicates NBC News, CNBC, and MSNBC.
NBC News’ reports on the announcement have generally presented the conflict as a possible problem for Trump, but not for NBC -- and that’s when the network reports on the deal at all. NBC’s flagship Sunday political show, Meet the Press, failed to address the story entirely on the December 11 edition. Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, who also anchors the weekday program Meet the Press Daily, said on December 8 that Trump being “connected to The Apprentice is not news to the American public.” NBC correspondents Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander both characterized the deal as a conflict for Trump, while downplaying NBC’s own conflict. Welker noted that there is “new scrutiny of the president-elect's decision to stay on as executive producer of The Apprentice,” referring to the deal as “Trump’s business entanglements,” and adding, “NBC Entertainment declined to comment, noting MGM owns and produces the show.” Joe Kernen, host of CNBC’s Squawk Box, told a critic, “Don’t bring it to your conflict thing again.” MSNBC’s Ari Melber argued that Trump remaining an executive producer isn’t a conflict, “it’s just … weird,” and made a point of saying that “NBC Entertainment is a separate division of our company” from NBC News.
MSNBC reporters have also tried to compare Trump’s deal with NBC to Obama receiving royalties for his books. But, as The Associated Press explained, Obama’s “books’ publishers are not financially tied to news divisions.”
By contrast, other media outlets have noted NBC’s numerous conflicts in this arrangement. On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked incoming Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus: “The FCC regulates NBC corporate. Corporations could try to curry favor with the president by placing their products on the show, buying advertising. Isn't that an issue?” CNN’s Dylan Byers explained that the business relationship “presents a thorny situation for Comcast/NBCUniversal, which controls the [product integration] deals” that companies make with Celebrity Apprentice, which, according to Byers, often range from $5 million to $9 million. Trump personally profits from those deals, making NBC the middleman through which companies can “curry favor” with the president. And Fortune magazine noted that NBC was already criticized in October “for reportedly sitting on the Access Hollywood footage from 2005 that showed Trump boasting about committing sexual assault,” which the network reportedly withheld due to “fear of spurring yet another lawsuit from Trump.”
Media and ethics experts have also pointed out the untenable situation NBC has created for itself. Marcy McGinnis, a former CBS News executive and journalism professor, called the arrangement “mind-boggling” and said it’s “a clear conflict of interest” to have a company “that has a news division …. covering the president of the United States” when he “has an interest in a show on that network.” Aly Colon, a journalism ethics expert, noted people’s desire to “believe in an independent news division not affected by business ties,” saying, “A lot of people find it difficult to believe there is a wall between news and entertainment.” And NPR’s David Folkenflik pointed out that, as president, Trump will be appointing the regulators tasked with scrutinizing the media, which NBC has an obvious interest in. Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert explained on MSNBC’s AM Joy that “No amount of disclosure is enough here. Is NBC for the next four years, every time they report on Trump, [going to] say, ‘By the way, our parent company has a financial relationship with Donald Trump’?” Boehlert also asked, "what if a company, in theory, says, 'Let's give The Apprentice $5 million and Trump could get a cut of that?' I mean, we're just paying off the president.”
NBC cut ties with Trump last summer, declining to air his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants and stating that the network did not want to be associated with Trump because his bigoted statements had defied its core values. What’s unclear now is whether NBC believes Trump’s values have changed or whether the network believes such statements became acceptable with his election.
Sign Media Matters’ petition telling NBC to dump Trump.
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.
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Media figures praised Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for his speech in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania that briefly touched on health care, calling it a “very, very good speech” focused on the substance of his proposals for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. In reality, Trump’s speech was full of recycled, unworkable Republican proposals that would increase the deficit and leave an estimated 24 million people without health insurance coverage.
But Where Was That Prudence On Clinton Email Reporting?
The media’s four-alarm fire drill over FBI Director James Comey’s announcement that the bureau would further investigate more emails related to its Hillary Clinton server investigation stands in stark contrast to the cautious, measured approach the press took when reporting on several stories about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russian entities. The divergent approaches to the so-called “October surprises” underscore the media’s double standard when reporting on Clinton and Trump.
After Comey released a letter on October 28 to congressional leaders stating that “the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the [Clinton email] investigation” and that the bureau was going to “review these emails” (which may or may not be “significant”), the chorus of pundits hyping the DEFCON 1 “bombshell” was unrestrained, despite the dearth of information about the FBI’s decision or next moves.
With scarcely any details about the new developments, cable news talking heads -- relying solely on Comey’s vague letter and Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-UT) misleading spin that the investigation was “reopened” -- hyped the news as “damaging” and called it “a dramatic new twist” and “an exclamation point on the end of a horrible week for Clinton and the Democrats.” Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin crowed that the “presidential race has been rocked by another head-scratching, rally-bending, M. Knight Shyamalan-worthy plot twist.”
CNN’s Brooke Baldwin even conceded that “there is so much we do not know,” yet nevertheless declared that “it’s a significant story … [with] 11 days to go.” Indeed, the media’s immediate email coverage relied solely on speculation, but it sounded as if the damage and implications were definitive: So much was made of so little.
Contrast the Clinton email reaction with that to the litany of stories that were published on October 31 about Trump: that Trump allegedly has a secret server that communicates with a shady Russian bank; that the Russian government has allegedly “for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump”; that the FBI is reportedly “conducting a preliminary inquiry” into the “foreign business connections” of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort; and that Comey was reluctant “to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election” because “it was too close to Election Day.” The double standard becomes pretty clear.
CNN’s Erin Burnett, referring to the CNBC and Huffington Post stories about Comey’s objection to naming Russia as an “election meddler,” said that “CNN has not been able to corroborate” the reporting. Likewise, CNN’s Alisyn Camerota asserted that “reports about [the Trump] campaign’s links to Russia” were “uncorroborated.” On MSNBC, Bloomberg’s Megan Murphy called the series of Trump stories “Russian conspiracy theories,” and MSNBC host Craig Melvin calmly asked about the “new information” regarding “possible Russian business ties in the Trump campaign” (emphasis added).
The media’s treatment of the Trump stories with a cautious eye is not unwelcomed -- in fact, it embodies the best possible way to report on new developments with limited information and uncorroborated claims. As it turns out, the veracity of some of the allegations about Trump’s Russian ties seemingly came into question hours after the initial reports, with The New York Times reporting that no FBI “investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.” The media’s measured approach to the initial spate of stories was thus a proper safeguard for reporting on stories that may or may not be true.
But the overhyped media freakout, the rush to judgment, the presumption of guilt, and the reliance on GOP spin after the FBI letter was publicized couldn’t have been further from the media’s approach to the Trump stories, and the disparity falls in line with what James Carville calls the “Clinton Rule”: “There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons.”
Media figures qualified the Trump-Russia stories by noting that they were unproven allegations with little supporting information, yet they didn’t give that same benefit to the FBI email story (for which, to be sure, there is even less information). The cautious reporting isn’t the problem; the double standard is.
Media should report on the immense hypocrisy of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump levying attacks on former President Bill Clinton’s history with women and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s responses to those women.Trump and several of his closest advisers have long histories of engaging in infidelity, workplace sexual harassment, and misogynistic behavior. Trump himself has also called Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky “totally unimportant,” and, The Washington Post reported, he “repeatedly dismissed and at times mocked” the women who have accused Bill Clinton.
When media report on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s latest attacks on former President Bill Clinton’s history with women and Hillary Clinton’s responses to those women, they should also mention the immense hypocrisy of Trump levying those claims. Trump and several of his closest advisers have long histories of infidelity, workplace sexual harassment, and misogyny. And Trump himself previously said both that Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky was “totally unimportant” and that people would have been more “forgiving” if Clinton had a relationship “with a really beautiful woman.”
Contrary to media misperceptions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affluence, two new reports by the Williams Institute and Center for American Progress show the LGBT community continues to face higher rates of poverty, low wages, and economic insecurity than non-LGBT people.
The Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), released its findings “that poverty remains a significant problem for LGBT people” in a report on September 13. The study found that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would dramatically cut the poverty rate for same-sex couples -- a 46 percent drop for lesbian couples and a 35 percent decline for gay male couples. The author, economist M.V. Lee Badgett, noted that the study showed that the notion that the entire LGBT community is wealthy is nothing more than “a misleading stereotype” and that “raising the minimum wage would help everybody.” From the Williams Institute:
The Williams study follows a September 8 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) that focused on the significant barriers that LGBT people face in accessing middle-class economic security. The study analyzes how anti-LGBT discrimination in employment and housing creates major hurdles for economic security, contributing to wage gaps faced by the LGBT community. CAP reported that up to 28 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans have been fired, not hired, or passed over for a promotion as a result of their orientation. As many as 47 percent of transgender Americans have experienced an adverse job outcome, such as “being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion” because of their gender identity, according to the report. CAP also noted that “LGBT people often struggle to find stable, affordable housing” and experience disparately higher out-of-pocket health care costs, which compounds the impact of economic insecurity experienced by LGBT people and their families.
Media frequently focus on the buying power and affluence of the LGBT community, and on companies that eagerly court the “pink dollar.” On July 20, when one marking firm -- Witeck Communications -- published its findings that LGBT American buying power reached $917 billion in 2015, it was picked up by Bloomberg, The Huffington Post, CNBC, and USA Today. While another study quoted by Business Insider claimed LGBT Americans take “16% more shopping trips” and have more disposable income than their straight counterparts -- claims echoed by a Nielsen study published in the National Journal in 2015.
Gary Gates of the Williams Institute told The Atlantic in 2014 that the downside of this media-created perception “is that those marketing studies looked at the LGBT community as a consumer market” and may only be seeing LGBT Americans who are in an economically secure enough situation to come out. Marketing studies don’t show that LGBT individuals face higher rates of poverty than their non-LGBT counterparts, or that 29 percent of LGBT Americans have experienced food insecurity in the last year. Right-wing media use the myth of LGBT affluence to dismiss LGBT discrimination and claim laws protecting the LGBT community are not needed. Currently, there is no federal law that protects people from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. CAP concluded its reporting by noting that the best way to address LGBT economic insecurity would be the passage of a broad-based federal nondiscrimination law called The Equality Act -- which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, employment, and housing.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on September 12 visited two morning shows, Fox News’ Fox & Friends and CNBC’s Squawk Box, that have a history of giving him kid-glove treatment and softball interviews. Trump was likely expecting more of the same, and he was right.
During his interview with Fox & Friends, Trump was asked about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s disclosure that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia after she left a 9/11 memorial event early, saying she was overheated. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt said the “press was kept in the dark for an hour and a half,” to which Trump said, “I really just don't know. I hope she gets well soon.” Trump also seemed to reference the baseless Clinton health conspiracy theories that have been spread by right-wing media figures, saying, “The coughing fit was a week ago, so I assume that was pneumonia also. I would think it would have been, so something is going on, but I just hope she gets well.”
Co-host Steve Doocy later asked Trump about Clinton’s September 9 remark that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables” characterized by “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” views. Despite ample polling that backs up Clinton’s claim, Doocy framed it as “mistake,” asking Trump, “How big a mistake was this for her to say that on Friday night?” Co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed, “Hillary Clinton, in … making these comments and going to these high-ranking fundraisers, in many ways, she seems divorced from the everyday American.” Trump also claimed, drawing no pushback from the hosts, that he would be a “president of all the people,” even though he has repeatedly smeared Muslims, called Mexicans “rapists,” discriminated against African-Americans, and courted the white nationalist movement. Other topics in the interview included the NFL players protesting the national anthem and Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel, which the co-hosts were amazed that he was able to open “two years ahead of schedule.”
Trump’s half-hour interview on Squawk Box was even friendlier. Co-host Joe Kernen, discussing Clinton’s health, asked Trump if he thought he was “probably correct” that Clinton “didn't have the stamina either mentally or physically to be president.” Kernen also told Trump, “I think your schedule has been more grueling than the one [Clinton’s] been pursuing, and that has been documented,” even though Trump goes back to his home in New York almost every night. Multiple journalists criticized Kernen for the claim. Trump agreed with Kernen, saying, “It has been, and it is a very tough schedule.” Kernen later encouraged Trump to continue bashing President Obama over his recent trip to Asia, asking, “Any additional comments on that?” and criticized The Wall Street Journal for a headline that focused on both Clinton’s and Trump’s health. Co-host Rebecca Quick also told Trump, “You’re known as a great negotiator.” Trump during the interview also baselessly suggested, without drawing any pushback, that Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen was directing policy to help Obama, even though the Federal Reserve is independently controlled. Trump also smeared Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with the slur “Pocahontas,” without pushback.
In neither interview was Trump asked about the September 10 report from The Washington Post that Trump’s charitable organization, the Trump Foundation, spent money for Trump himself and violated IRS rules. The shows also failed to ask Trump about the September 10 New York Daily News report that Trump’s company took $150,000 in government aid following the 9/11 attacks while claiming to have helped locals, even though that’s not what the program was designated for, and, as the News noted, “It’s unclear what, if any, help Trump provided to those affected by 9/11.”
Trump’s softball interviews on these shows continue his cushy history with both Fox and CNBC. For years, Trump had weekly segments on Fox & Friends, giving him a platform to push his baseless claim that Obama isn’t an American citizen. The show’s co-hosts have praised themselves for giving a “ton of time” to Trump before his campaign, and Trump publically lauded the show at a campaign event. The show has repeatedly defended and pushed Trump’s rhetoric throughout his campaign. Trump also had a weekly segment with Squawk Box in 2012. During that time, Kernen pushed Trump’s birther claims by reading a fake quote to Trump from Obama that suggested he wasn’t born in the United States. Kernen in an interview following CNBC’s Republican primary debate in 2015 also allowed Trump to falsely claim, “My relationship with Hispanics is incredible.”
Trump’s appearance on both shows also follows Trump’s retreat from most news outlets aside from Fox and CNBC. Fox media reporter Howard Kurtz reported in June that Trump was scaling back on interviews outside of Fox. According to a Media Matters review, since Trump’s much-criticized interview with ABC on July 31, in which he attacked a Gold Star family, his only appearance on one of the three broadcast networks was during last week’s NBC Commander in Chief Forum; he has made only one appearance on CNN; and he has not appeared on MSNBC.
NBC Today host Savannah Guthrie commended Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for not attacking Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her recent pneumonia diagnosis, touting his so-called “restraint” as evidence of “a new Donald Trump.” Minutes later, the candidate engaged in vintage Trump behavior on NBC’s sister network CNBC, hurling racial slurs and outlandish conspiracy theories and once again flouting the media’s tendency to declare a Trump pivot.
Trump and his surrogates plan “to refrain from commenting” on Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis, as Bloomberg reported. For Guthrie, “this is a new Donald Trump.”
NICOLLE WALLACE: Let me just say what I think the glaring, banner-worthy breaking news is this morning. Donald Trump hasn't tweeted about [Hillary Clinton's pneumonia diagnoses]. Donald Trump hasn't raged against her. Donald Trump hasn't called her a name. We are seeing, to me, the most dramatic 24-hour transformation of her opponent since he began running for president. I can't wait to see what his first comments are and if he's able to show restraint. That will mark, really to me, the most dramatic development in this campaign so far.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE (CO-HOST): Well, Nicolle, ask and ye shall receive. I've been told he did at an appearance this morning on another network and said, "I hope she gets well soon," and looks forward to seeing her at the debate. So Mark, this is a new Donald Trump.
Right after Guthrie lapsed into the media’s persistent tendency of proclaiming a Trump “pivot,” the presidential candidate appeared on CNBC and lobbed his typical racial insults, speculated about corruption at the Federal Reserve, and suggested the presidential debates will be rigged, defying any semblance of a “new Donald Trump.” Here are a few examples of the vintage Donald Trump who appeared on CNBC just after NBC declared him “new”:
He Called Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”
BECKY QUICK (CO-HOST): Just last week Senator Elizabeth Warren was working with a group called Fed Up where they’re trying to put constraints on the Fed and get their arms around it a little more. I wonder in a Trump administration would you be trying to put more constraints on the Fed as well?
DONALD TRUMP: What I would want to do is have a policy -- I wouldn't go by what Pocahontas wants you to do, because her agenda is obvious. I mean, she's a disaster. She’s also one of the least effective senators in the United States Senate. Nobody really understands that, but she's done nothing.
He Claimed Fed Chair Janet Yellen Is Manipulating Interest Rates “Because She’s Obviously Political”
Trump baselessly accused Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen of keeping interest rates “at zero because she’s obviously political and she’s doing what [President] Obama wants her to do,” even though the Federal Reserve operates independently of the White House.
JOE KERNEN (CO-HOST): Did you come to the conclusion that maybe [interest rates] can't stay at zero forever, and what do you think [the Federal Reserve] should do in September?
DONALD TRUMP: Well it's staying at zero because she's obviously political and she’s doing what [President] Obama wants her to do and I know that's not supposed to be the way it is. But that's why it's low, because as soon as they go up your stock market’s going to go way down most likely, or possibly. And don't forget, I called Brexit. I did a lot of calling and what they are doing is, I believe it's a false market. Because money is essentially free.
I think they are keeping them down and they will keep them down even longer and any increase at all will be a very, very small increase, Joe, because, you know, they want to keep the market up so that Obama goes out and let the new guy, whoever that new-- let's call it the new guy, you know, OK, because I like the sound of that much better. But that the new person becomes president, let him raise interest rates or her raise interest rates and watch what happens to the stock market when that happens, OK, because you have no choice. The people that were hurt the worst are people that saved their money all their lives and thought they were going to live off their interests and those people are getting just absolutely creamed. In other words, the ones that did it right, they saved their money, they cut down on their mortgages, they did all of the things they did everything exactly right, and now they are getting practically zero interest on the money that they worked so hard for over 40 years. I mean, those people have really been -- you can almost say discriminated against. Now the interest rates are kept down by President Obama. I have no doubt that that's the reason that they are being kept down.
He Claimed Clinton Is “Gaming The System” And Rigging The Presidential Debates
Trump speculated that Clinton and her allies are “gaming the system” to try to rig the presidential debates. He said they’re accusing Matt Lauer of being “nice” to Trump during a forum he hosted between the two candidates, so that “the new person is going to try and be really hard on Trump just to show the establishment what he can do.” Trump floated the idea that there should be “no moderator” for the debates, and instead it should be “just Hillary and I sitting there talking.” Trump has baselessly asserted several times that various aspects of the election are or will be rigged.
JOE KERNEN: I want to talk about the debates and how you are prepping for those, whether you like the moderators that are selected.
DONALD TRUMP: As far as the debates are concerned, the system is being gamed because everybody said that I won the so-called forum that your group put on, but they all said I won and that Matt Lauer was easy on me. Well he wasn't. I thought he was very professional, I have to be honest. I think he has been treated very unfairly. But they all said that I won. And what they’re doing is they’re gaming the system, so that when I go into the debate I’m going to get -- be treated very, very unfairly by the moderators.
They are saying about how Matt Lauer was nice to Trump. He wasn’t nice to me. He was tough on me. He gave me tough. I answered them better than she did. The fact is that they are gaming the system, and I think maybe we should have no moderator. Let Hillary and I sit there and just debate. Because I think the system is being rigged so it's going to be a very unfair debate. And I can see it happening right now because everybody was saying that he was soft on Trump. Well now the new person is going to try and be really hard on Trump just to show the establishment what he can do. So I think it's very unfair what they are doing. So I think we should have a debate with no moderator, just Hillary and I sitting there talking.
CNBC Devoted Significant Resources To The Story, While Bloomberg And Fox Relegated It To Quick Headlines
Fox Business devoted a mere 16 seconds of airtime to the eight-figured settlement reached by 21st Century Fox and former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson after she filed a lawsuit against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment and retaliation. Bloomberg and CNBC spent marginally more time on the news, even though Bloomberg relegated the story to quick headlines.
21st Century Fox announced September 6 that it had reached a $20 million settlement deal with Carlson, who sued Ailes for sexual harassment in July. Fox also released a public apology saying, “We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect that she and all our colleagues deserve." CNN reported that the company “also completed settlement deals with a ‘handful’ of other women who accused Ailes of harassing behavior.”
In the 24 hours after the settlement was announced, Fox Business covered it only once, in a 16-second statement from host Charles Payne. Bloomberg News devoted six segments to the settlement, but they were all short headlines that lasted less than 30 seconds each.
CNBC was the only business news network to devote substantial coverage to the story, spending 12 minutes and 21 seconds discussing the settlement across six segments. CNBC’s segments also included more substantial coverage of the allegations of sexual harassment at Fox News. In an interview on the September 6 edition of Squawk Alley, Vanity Fair contributing editor Sarah Ellison, who broke the story of the settlement, discussed the “waterfall effect” of women coming forward and speaking up about being sexually harassed at Fox. CNBC reporter Julia Boorstin noted of the settlement that “though there were talks about Ailes covering some of that payment, he is not going to be making any contribution ... despite the fact that Ailes reportedly walked away from Fox with twice what Carlson is being paid, $40 million.”
Fox News was also hesitant to cover the story when Carlson filed the lawsuit in July, and when the network did report on the issue, it leaned heavily on Ailes’ prepared statement. The network’s first report on the lawsuit came a day after it was filed, and it was almost entirely a recitation of Ailes’ statement. In a piece on FoxNews.com after news of the lawsuit broke, Fox News media analyst Howard Kurtz carried water for Ailes by citing his denial before even establishing the facts about the allegations he was denying.
By tripling down on his comments that President Obama was the “founder of ISIS,” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump proved futile reporters’ repeated attempts to clarify that he “meant” something different.
Trump told supporters during an August 10 campaign stop, “‘In many respects, you know, [ISIS] honor[s] President Obama ... He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS.” On August 11, Trump repeated the line on CNBC’s Squawk Box.
Some media figures, including conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, attempted to clean up Trump’s comments and explain what he really “meant,” claiming that Trump’s comments were “not literal,” but just a poorly worded criticism of President Obama’s terror policies.
Hewitt hosted Trump on August 11 and tried desperately to help Trump walk back his comments, guiding him by saying, “I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum [for ISIS], he lost the peace.”
But Trump immediately refuted Hewitt’s assertion, responding, “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do.”
Hewitt tried again, saying, “[B]y using the term founder, they’re hitting with you on this again. Mistake?”
Trump again denied that he meant something different than what he said: “No, it’s no mistake. Everyone’s liking it. I think they’re liking it.”
This exchange perfectly exemplifies why the media figures who repeatedly try to rehab Trump’s statements consistently miss the mark. Some in the media have explained why attempts at Trump cleanups are unwarranted altogether. As Business Insider’s Josh Barro wrote:
It doesn't really matter what Trump meant. It matters what he said — a reckless comment that might or might not be outrageous, depending on your interpretation. This has happened over and over during the campaign, and it would happen, with much higher stakes, during his presidency.
What the president says matters. Presidents' comments can move markets, create policy, inflame foreign tensions, and even start wars. It is therefore important that presidents be careful.
Yet media figures’ attempts to clarify what Trump really means also surfaced on August 9, when several conservative commentators tried to interpret Trump’s remark that “Second Amendment people” could do something to prevent Hillary Clinton picking Supreme Court nominees.
Those attempting to rewrite Trump’s intent -- be it for his comments about ISIS, the Second Amendment, or for the inevitable next round of outrageous comments -- are coming dangerously close to mirroring the role of a Trump surrogate.