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NBC and MSNBC figures have adopted misleading language also used by President-elect Donald Trump and his advisors to criticize and dismiss claims that Russia may have compromising information on the president-elect. A statement released by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that Trump was briefed on the allegations, which the intelligence community has not yet verified or discredited.
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During CNN’s town hall with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), Jake Tapper showed the value of fact-checking conservative misinformation on health care policy -- even in a conversational setting -- by providing strong pushback about funding for Planned Parenthood. But there were several other moments during the event when Ryan pushed false information about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that Tapper could have fact-checked. Going forward, more media outlets should adopt an aggressive approach to addressing conservative misinformation on health care policy, given the severe consequences of ACA repeal.
During the town hall discussion of the fight over the ACA, the final question on health care came from an audience member asking where the millions of women who use Planned Parenthood to access women’s health care services will go if the Republican Congress defunds the network. When Ryan falsely tried to claim that providing federal funds to Planned Parenthood “commit[s] people’s taxpayer dollars to fund” abortion, Tapper correctly noted that the Hyde Amendment bans taxpayer money from funding abortions.
Tapper also noted the hypocrisy in Ryan’s earlier statements emphasizing the necessity of choice in health care policies, asking, “You believe in providing more choice for people when it comes to health insurance, except for Planned Parenthood?”
But there were also many other opportunities for Tapper to fact-check Ryan as he used the town hall to reiterate stock talking points and push false narratives about the ACA. When asked whether “the government should guarantee health care” for Americans, Ryan falsely claimed that the ACA is failing and that premium spikes were proof that “the law is collapsing.” In reality, during the most recent open enrollment period, more people signed up on the ACA insurance marketplaces than during the previous year, contradicting the conservative claim that people are fleeing the market. Ryan’s claims about premium hikes omit the crucial context that subsidies rise in proportion to premium hikes, mitigating the impact for the majority of enrollees. While the ACA clearly has problems, claims that the law is “collapsing” or in a “death spiral” are clearly false and should be rebutted as such.
When an audience member who survived cancer asked Ryan how the GOP’s plans would impact individuals with pre-existing conditions, Ryan claimed that “state high-risk pools are a smarter way of guaranteeing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.” While high-risk pools sound like a good idea in theory, they have a long history of problems, as they are typically chronically underfunded, are prohibitively expensive for customers, and provide inadequate coverage. Similarly, Ryan’s claims about the benefits of refundable tax credits and health savings accounts should prompt substantive follow-up questions, as legitimate critiques raise questions about their effectiveness in reducing costs and maintaining coverage.
While Tapper illustrated the value of fact-checking conservative misinformation during the discussion on Planned Parenthood, he ought to have also provided substantive follow-up questions and pushback on some of Ryan’s policy claims. Going forward, media outlets should use any interview, in any format, to hold conservative politicians’ feet to the fire on the issue of the ACA -- to prevent the further spread of false narratives and to investigate the efficacy of proposed GOP policies. The lack of consensus on what a replacement plan might look like, combined with the massive impact repeal will have on the millions who have obtained insurance through the Affordable Care Act, makes it especially vital for the media to ask substantive questions about conservative claims on health care policy.
Fox’s Tucker Carlson “thoroughly enjoyed” President-elect Donald Trump castigating CNN reporter Jim Acosta for being “rude” during a press conference, which is strange since Carlson previously held up one of his own reporters as God’s gift to journalism for interrupting a President Obama statement by shouting out a question.
Back in 2012, Neil Munro, then a reporter for The Daily Caller, made a fool of himself when he interrupted an Obama Rose Garden statement on immigration policy by shouting out questions about the administration "employ[ing] foreigners." Munro’s breach of decorum was widely criticized, and both the reporter and the Caller’s publisher issued statements saying that he had attempted to time his question to coincide with the conclusion of the president’s remarks. This was transparently false, but at least they recognized Munro had done something bad.
But for Carlson, then the website’s editor-in-chief, Munro hadn’t made a simple error -- instead, he was a journalistic hero. According to Carlson’s statement at the time:
I don't remember Diane Sawyer scolding her colleague Sam Donaldson for heckling President Reagan. And she shouldn't have. A reporter's job is to ask questions and get answers. Our job is to find out what the federal government is up to. Politicians often don't want to tell us. A good reporter gets the story. We're proud of Neil Munro.
Carlson’s comparison of Munro to Sam Donaldson and his claim that Munro “got the story” are bullshit. But the then-Caller editor had laid down a marker: Interruption in pursuit of reporting is no vice.
Flash forward to this week’s Trump press conference. After the president-elect lashed out at CNN in response to a journalist’s question, the network’s reporter Jim Acosta yelled out, “Since you are attacking us, can you give us a question?” In an extended back and forth, Trump slammed Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet and rejected his request, calling the network “fake news.”
Acosta’s interruptions, coming amid the scrum of an actual press conference, would seem like far less of a breach of decorum than Munro shouting out questions in the middle of President Obama’s speech. But for some reason, Carlson isn’t “proud” of the CNN reporter.
Instead, during an “Ask Me Anything” thread on the pro-Donald Trump subreddit “/r/The_Donald,” Carlson answered a question about what he thought of the Trump/Acosta exchange by writing, “Acosta was rude. Trump rose to it. I thoroughly enjoyed the exchange.”
“/r/The_Donald” has been described as an “authoritarian [subreddit] full of memes and in-jokes, far right talking points, coded racism, misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia, and a hypocritical ‘free speech’ rallying point.” The forum is a hub of the “alt-right” movement, among which Carlson has cultivated a strong following.
In directly criticizing Acosta, Carlson went further on Reddit than he had on his own show. During an interview with Sean Spicer on Wednesday, Carlson remained silent as the future White House press secretary described Acosta as “rude, inappropriate, and disrespectful” and called on the CNN reporter to apologize.
Sam Donaldson’s legacy did not come up.
During a CNN town hall with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), moderator Jake Tapper corrected Ryan's faulty claim that federal funds to Planned Parenthood "commit people's taxpayer dollars to fund" abortion. Tapper explained that the Hyde Amendment bans the use of tax dollars to fund abortions. Although Tapper fact-checked Ryan's baseless claim that taxpayer dollars fund abortion services, he failed to correct the unfounded allegation that "community health centers" (CHCs) could absorb patient demand should Planned Parenthood clinics close. In reality, experts agree that CHCs lack the capacity, experience, and resources to replace Planned Parenthood. From the January 12 edition of CNN's Town Hall: Paul Ryan:
CNN and CBS are now reporting that FBI Director James Comey did, in fact, brief President-elect Donald Trump on unsubstantiated claims that Russians have a dossier of information against him. The information corroborates earlier CNN reporting that intelligence chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him. According to The Hill:
FBI Director James Comey briefed President-elect Donald Trump on a two-page summary of an unverified dossier claiming Russia had compromising information on the real estate mogul, CNN reported Thursday.
That contradicts claims by members of Trump’s transition team and other news outlets that intelligence officials never briefed Trump on the two-page addendum to a classified report given to President Obama and leaders in Congress about Russian efforts to interfere with the presidential election.
From the January 12 edition of CBS' CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley:
SCOTT PELLEY (HOST): Sources tell CBS News that F.B.I. Director James Comey personally briefed President-elect Trump last Friday about scandalous tales about Mr. Trump that were never proven, and were nonetheless attached to an official U.S. intelligence report. Major Garrett has been looking into this.
MAJOR GARRETT: CBS News has confirmed that Christopher Steele, seen in this photo, produced the memo containing unsubstantiated claims that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about President-elect Donald Trump. Steele is a former British intelligence officer who works for Orbis Business Intelligence, a private investigation firm in London. Orbis was originally hired by Fusion G.P.S., a D.C.-based research firm working for an unknown client. The unverified claims circulated widely in political and media circles. Last week, the U.S. intelligence community included a summary of the information in a classified briefing with Mr. Trump, who said the memo was phony.
DONALD TRUMP: I think it's disgraceful, disgraceful, that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. And that's something that Nazi Germany would have done, and did do.
GARRETT: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper phoned Mr. Trump last night. In a statement, Clapper said he expressed his "profound dismay" at the leaks and emphasized the unverified document is not a U.S. intelligence community product. President Obama and Vice President Biden also received the briefing. On MSNBC, the vice president was asked if including the claims was appropriate.
JOE BIDEN: It was their obligation to inform not only us, but the President-elect that this was out there, so that it didn't come out of the blue and have any impact on-- on the conduct of our foreign policy.
GARRETT: House Speaker Paul Ryan told CBS News he understands Mr. Trump's frustration, calling the leaks and subsequent media frenzy unfair. But, Scott, the speaker said he would not have suggested U.S. intelligence agencies used Nazi tactics in this or any other matter.
From the January 12 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront:
ERIN BURNETT (HOST): We begin with breaking news. U.S. Officials tell CNN the FBI director James Comey personally briefed Donald Trump on unsubstantiated claims that the Russians may have compromising information on Trump. Now, Comey had a brief, one-on-one conversation with the President-elect last Friday during an intelligence briefing.
The FBI Director at that time presented Trump with a two-page synopsis of the Russian claims. The nation's top intelligence chiefs have decided that Comey would be the one who would handle this sensitive discussion. Now, this is a very significant development because it appears to contradict what Trump's senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, has been saying over the past several days.
BURNETT: Evan Perez is part of the team that broke this story, he's OutFront tonight. As Evan, as we said, a significant development because you heard Kellyanne, they said that this briefing didn't happen. You are reporting it was a one-on-one conversation between James Comey and the president-elect, and it did happen.
EVAN PEREZ: It did, and this helps correct the record, really, of what exactly happened here. Now, we know there were four intelligence chief who is met with the President-elect last Friday. The purpose of this briefing overall was to bring him up to date on the findings of the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, the 2016 presidential election.
Now, at the end of this, the four chiefs were finishing their work and Comey decided to do a one-on-one with the President-elect. The chiefs had decided that Comey should be the one to handle this, after all, it's the FBI counterintelligence division that is doing the investigation to take a look at these claims, and it's also their job to -- to take a look at what foreign intelligence services are up to in this country. In this case Russia, if the Russians are targeting or trying to target the President-elect, it was very important for the President-elect to know about this. That was the purpose of this.
We're told that this was a cordial briefing, that Trump appreciated the information that he was given, and so we're a little puzzled, really, by the reaction over the last couple days in various stages of denial by the Trump transition team about what really was the FBI and the intelligence chiefs doing their job to make sure he was informed before he took office.
BURNETT: Right, because Evan, just to underline this, they are -- you've heard them repeatedly say this briefing did not happen.
PEREZ: Right. We've heard various different versions,I mean, we don't really know where they're at at this point, but we know this information was brought to the briefing and of course we also know from Vice President Joe Biden today, he met with reporters at the White House there, and mentioned that he and president Obama were both briefed on this information, that they got this information from the two-page -- synopsis.
He even said that he read the entire 35-page document this thing was based on, Erin, and so he said that the intelligence chiefs told him that the reason was they were going to make sure that Donald Trump knew about this very important information.
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President-elect Donald Trump is dodging serious questions raised by a blockbuster CNN story that top U.S. intelligence officials presented Trump with documents including Russian claims that they have “compromising” information about the president-elect. Instead, he is trying to turn the conversation into a discussion about ethics in political journalism, and some in the press are playing along, helping the president-elect avoid accountability.
Yesterday, CNN reported that intelligence officials had presented information to President Obama and Trump that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump” and that “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis of 35 pages of memos authored by a British former intelligence officer, which CNN obtained but did not publish.
CNN had not been able to verify the allegations in those memos, which have reportedly been “circulating as far back as last summer,” and the FBI is still reviewing the allegations. But according to CNN, “US intelligence agencies have now checked out the former British intelligence operative and his vast network throughout Europe and find him and his sources to be credible enough to include some of the information in the presentations to the President and President-elect a few days ago.”
Shortly after CNN’s report came out, BuzzFeed published the memos. The site acknowledged that its own reporters had been unable to verify the contents but said it released them anyway “so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”
In their responses, Trump and his allies have either deliberately conflated those two stories -- the raw information published by BuzzFeed and the journalism produced by CNN -- or focused solely on BuzzFeed in order to sidestep the serious questions raised by CNN’s report.
Last night on Twitter, Trump himself declared the stories “FAKE NEWS” before highlighting an attack on the BuzzFeed story by LifeZette, a fringe website founded by conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that has pushed false conspiracy theories.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
Trump’s pick for White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, opened Trump’s press conference today by lashing out at “outrageous and highly irresponsible” BuzzFeed, then falsely suggested that CNN had also published the memos:
Trump’s defense has actually included citing the Kremlin’s denial as evidence that the story isn’t true. And yet, some in the media have followed along, conflating BuzzFeed’s work with CNN’s and focusing on BuzzFeed’s decision to release the memo rather than engaging with the troubling implications of the CNN report.
“Why would BuzzFeed and why would CNN put out these reports that are unsubstantiated and they can't name a source?” Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus this morning. “Because it’s irresponsible and it's what's horrible about politics and what’s happening in America,” Priebus replied. “They should be ashamed of themselves.”
“Right now there’s no story here," Mika Brzezinski said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “The two outlets [Buzzfeed and CNN] that are actually going with this and releasing it are continuing to make the same mistakes they made in the run-up to this election, which is to let their bias get in the way of actually finding out what the facts are and putting them out there.”
By playing Trump’s game, these media figures are ignoring incredibly important questions that get to the heart of the democratic process.
CNN’s report suggests that top U.S. intelligence officials suspect that a presidential candidate’s associates may have colluded with a foreign, hostile government to influence the election.
It suggests that our officials found allegations about Russian claims of possessing “compromising” information about the president-elect to be valid enough to include in briefing documents.
That information was reportedly delivered to Trump, and given the events of the last day it’s unclear whether he read it.
The president-elect has responded by siding with that hostile foreign government over the apparent concerns of the U.S. intelligence community.
Reporters need to keep their eyes on the ball, and off their navels.
On the campaign trail last January, President-elect Donald Trump bragged that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters.”
Today during his press conference, Trump did the rhetorical equivalent to CNN reporter Jim Acosta, and the assembled reporters did nothing.
After Trump attacked CNN’s report that top U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian operatives may have compromising information about him, Acosta yelled out, “Since you are attacking us, can you give us a question?” In an extended back and forth, Trump lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet.
“I’m not going to give you a question,” Trump said. “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!”
Acosta was left to say that Trump was being “inappropriate” and sink back in his chair as Trump’s supporters clapped.
And the rest of the press apparently did nothing at all. They watched it happen, then moved on to ask their own questions. Rather than deferring to their CNN colleagues until they had an opportunity to speak or or pushing back against Trump’s attack on a media outlet or even walking out, they acted like it hadn’t happened.
This is a pattern. Members of the press have repeatedly refused to stand together as Trump has lashed out at their colleagues.
Trump banned The Des Moines Register from covering his campaign after it printed a critical editorial. There was no collective response from the press. So he banned more outlets when he didn’t like their coverage.
His campaign threw a New York Times reporter out of an event. No response from the press.
He confined the reporters to press pens where he could mock them by name to the glee of his supporters, putting them in physical danger. And into the pens they went, day after day.
His campaign manager allegedly manhandled a reporter. CNN hired the campaign manager!
Trump treats reporters like conquered foes who he can manhandle at will. If they can’t figure out a way to stand up together and for one another, he will pick them off one by one and grind the free press into the dirt.
The press conference reportedly ended with Acosta being heckled by Omarosa. Who’s next?
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