Fox Hosts End Argument Claiming “No One” Said Obama Wasn’t A Legitimate President With Birther Jokes
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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.
Newt Gingrich, a prominent supporter of President-elect Donald Trump and a Fox News contributor, would like to shatter the influence of an “adversarial” press. And he thinks Trump’s press conference confrontation with CNN reporter Jim Acosta has given the incoming administration the opportunity to dramatically reshape White House press interactions to favor journalists who will treat the president-elect more favorably.
During Trump’s January 11 presser, he lashed out at CNN and demanded the network apologize for a recent report on his alleged ties to Russia, and Acosta repeatedly called out, seeking to ask a question in response. Trump replied by calling CNN “terrible,” castigating Acosta for being “rude,” and declaring, “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!” Sean Spicer, who will serve as Trump’s White House press secretary, subsequently told Acosta that he would be removed if he continued to press for a question, and Spicer later demanded that the reporter apologize to the president-elect.
Team Trump’s efforts seem intended to both damage the credibility of CNN and cow other networks into shying away from similarly critical journalism -- as Gingrich put it, to “shrink and isolate” the network. But the Fox News contributor wants the incoming administration to go even further and use the incident as an excuse to “close down the elite press.”
Gingrich laid out this strategy during an interview on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, one of the most pro-Trump venues available. He urged Spicer to learn “a couple of big lessons” from the incident. First and foremost, he suggested that Acosta be banned from reporting on Trump events for 60 days “as a signal, frankly, to all the other reporters that there are going to be real limits” for proper behavior.
But Gingrich’s recommendations went far beyond chastising Acosta. He urged Trump to stop prioritizing questions from major news outlets due to their tough coverage and confrontational attitude. Instead, he suggested that he “extend the privileges to reporters from out of town, folks that fly in from all over the country to be allowed to be at a briefing.” Those reporters, Gingrich suggested, would be “a lot more courteous” and “responsible” rather than being “adversarial.”
Gingrich went on to explain his theory of the press under the Trump administration. “You don't have to think of The New York Times or CNN or any of these people as news organizations,” he explained. “They're mostly propaganda organizations. And they're going to be after Trump every single day of his presidency.”
“And he needs to understand that that's the case, and so does Sean Spicer in speaking for him. And they simply need to go out there and understand they have it in their power to set the terms of this dialogue.” He added, “They can close down the elite press.”
Trump has already started to take steps like those Gingrich describes. During the 2016 campaign, he reportedly made a deal with the right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns television stations across the country, to provide more access to its stations in exchange for a promise from Sinclair to broadcast his interviews without commentary.
He took questions from sycophantic pro-Trump outlets Breitbart.com and One America News Network during this week’s press conference. Right Side Broadcasting Network, which has been described as “the unofficial version of Trump TV,” claims it will be in the White House press briefing room under the new president. Other right-wing outlets like Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette and Alex Jones’ conspiracy website Infowars could be next.
Alexey Kovalev, a Russian journalist who has covered Vladimir Putin’s annual press conferences, warned of the use of such tactics in a searing “message to my doomed colleagues in the American media” that he authored following Trump’s press conference.
“A mainstay of Putin’s press conferences is, of course, softball questions,” Kovalev wrote. These include both “hyperlocal issues that a president isn’t even supposed to be dealing with,” which nonetheless provide “a real opportunity for him to shine.” Putin also benefits from “people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies.”
“But there will also be one token critic who will be allowed to ask a ‘sharp’ question,” Kovalev added, “only to be drowned in a copious amount of bullshit, and the man on the stage will always be the winner (‘See? I respect the media and free speech’).”
Of course we are not there yet, but the precedent is unnerving. Gingrich wants nothing more than a cowed, broken press that exists solely to promote the Republican Party’s message. We’ll see soon enough how much of his advice Trump takes.
UPDATE: Gingrich is not alone in urging Trump to freeze out the press. Following Trump's election, Hannity stated that "until members of the media come clean about colluding with the Clinton campaign and admit that they knowingly broke every ethical standard they are supposed to uphold, they should not have the privilege, they should not have the responsibility of covering the president on behalf of you, the American people."
"In other words, the mainstream press should not be allowed to cover Trump," New York University's Jay Rosen wrote in response to Hannity's comments. "A few years ago that was a bridge too far. Now it’s a plausible test of poisoned waters." It looks like we'll see more of those tests in the days to come.
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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.
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Fox News’ culture of sexual harassment did not end when founder Roger Ailes was given the boot. Instead, the network seems to have replaced him with men who engaged in or helped cover up similar behavior.
Last year, longtime Fox executives Jack Abernethy and Bill Shine became the network’s co-presidents, replacing Ailes, who left the network after dozens of women accused him of sexual harassment.
Abernethy has now been accused of retaliating against an employee who refused a personal relationship with him, while Shine was previously identified as playing “an integral role in the cover up” of sexual harassment allegations against Ailes.
After the allegations against Ailes came to light, the network’s parent company launched an investigation by a law firm hired to review the allegations and provide legal advice. But in spite of numerous reports pointing to a broader culture of sexual harassment at the network, the inquiry was reportedly never expanded beyond Ailes. Fox got its “revenue machine back on track” and tried to move on, as Vanity Fair put it.
But in promoting Ailes’ proteges to replace him, the network exposed itself and its employees to more of the same behavior.
Soon after Ailes’ removal, Fox paid former on-air personality Juliet Huddy “a sum in the high six figures” not to sue the network after her lawyers sent Fox a letter alleging that she had been sexually harassed by host Bill O’Reilly, The New York Times reported today. The details are grotesque, and this is not the first time O’Reilly has been accused of such behavior.
But the allegations extend beyond the network’s biggest star. The same letter reportedly indicated that Abernethy “had retaliated against [Huddy] professionally after she made clear that she was not interested in a personal relationship.”
Shine has yet to be publicly accused of the same behavior. But he reportedly played a key role in keeping similar accusations from exploding into the public eye.
New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman -- the leading source on the Ailes scandal -- said that Shine “played an integral role in the cover up of these sexual harassment claims.” He explained on CNN that Shine “pushed women into confidential mediation, signing nondisclosure agreements in exchange for their contracts to be paid.” Other reporters confirmed hearing from Fox sources that Shine had known of Ailes’ misconduct.
Since the initial accusations came out against Ailes, news reports have indicated that he was only part of the problem. At least a dozen other women told the Times in July they had experienced sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox, with many of them citing supervisors other than Ailes.
It’s long past time for Fox to commission a real, independent investigation into its culture of sexual harassment. The network’s women should not have to live in fear of retribution from executives and hosts seeking sexual relationships.
Right-wing media outlets ran with Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma’s claim that Alibaba would “create 1 million U.S. jobs” in the US by allowing the sale of American goods to China on their platform. While right-wing media outlets cite Alibaba’s dubious statement as a victory for President-elect Donald Trump, the company’s vague plan relies on claims of indirect job growth.
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After top United States intelligence officials testified before Congress and confirmed reports that Russia orchestrated efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential election, right-wing news figures deflected from the report by falsely blaming John Podesta’s email password for cybersecurity breaches.
Following Megyn Kelly’s announcement that she will be leaving Fox News for NBC, the network moved quickly to install pro-Trump host Tucker Carlson into her prime-time slot. Fox’s move cements its ongoing audition to serve as Trump’s go-to network for spreading his agenda, which has included the network devoting disproportionate airtime to his candidacy, then-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes advising Trump, and network figures shielding and defending him from negative coverage. Trump also retreated to the network toward the end of the campaign, and since his election he has considered or selected a number of Fox News figures to serve in his administration.
Will The Network Continue Its Nitpicking Misinformation Campaign After Trump Takes Office?
Today marked the release of the final monthly jobs report during President Obama’s time in office, and Fox News wasted no time in spinning the document, which showed consistent job gains, new workforce entries, and sizable year-to-year wage increases, by claiming that it’s “not a great picture of the employment situation.” The network has exploited the monthly jobs report to attack the president since he took office in January 2009, but its campaign of misinformation will likely come to a screeching halt next month.
On the first Friday of every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases its monthly employment situation summary detailing key indicators of the national labor market from the previous month. The report for December 2016 showed another month of consistent performance from the American economy, with 156,000 new jobs created, a 2.9 percent increase in hourly wages over the previous year, and the unemployment rate remaining “little changed” at 4.7 percent. The December jobs figure came in below some economic forecasts, but the miss was offset by major upward revisions to jobs estimates in October and November. Meanwhile, the slight 0.1-point increase in the unemployment rate was driven mostly by an influx of job seekers entering the labor market last month. According to The Wall Street Journal, December marked the 75th consecutive month of job growth -- the longest streak on record.
On CNN’s New Day, chief business correspondent Christine Romans outlined the details of what she called “a solid finish to the year.” Romans said the economy created roughly 2.2 million jobs in 2016 and stressed that “altogether for the Obama presidency, it’s a net 11 million new jobs” even though he inherited the Great Recession and took office in a year when “5 million jobs just disappeared”:
Investment analyst and Bloomberg View columnist Conor Sen argued that the December report “is about as strong of a jobs print as we can get at this point in the cycle.” University of Michigan economist and New York Times columnist Justin Wolfers compared the economy to “the little engine that could,” arguing that after accounting for prevailing economic trends, the December report was “good news.” New York Times senior economic correspondent Neil Irwin noted that the 2.9 percent average hourly wage increase “is the highest of this expansion,” concluding, “Boom.” Economist Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute wrote in a January 6 blog post, “All told, it’s clear that the next president is inheriting an economy much stronger than it was at the start of the previous administration,” a sentiment echoed by MSNBC’s Steve Benen, who said the report stands as yet more evidence that “the president is handing off a healthy economy to his successor (who spent 2016 telling voters the economy is terrible).”
The generally positive outlook on the economy portrayed by these journalists, economists, and other experts was once again absent at Fox News, which painted the report as another example of the president’s failing policies.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney slammed the report all morning on Varney & Co., and he invited several guests to claim that the report was proof of a sputtering and “sick” economy. Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade lamented the report as “not a great picture of the employment situation in the country,” ignoring all its positive indicators, while guest and Trump apologist Jeanine Pirro slammed the Obama administration for its supposed failure to advance the economic interests of African-Americans. (Many observers had noted that the December report actually showed the unemployment rate for African-Americans falling to its lowest point since August 2007.) From the January 6 edition of Fox & Friends: