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Most Sunday news shows gave little attention to reports detailing the Office of Government Ethics’ (OGE) concerns that it will not be able to complete background checks on all of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees in time for their confirmation hearings. Despite the confirmation hearings beginning this week, CBS’ Face the Nation was the only show to devote significant time to the story.
Journalists Must Be Better Prepared In The Trump Era
Sunday show hosts failed to sufficiently press Donald Trump's surrogates on the president-elect’s blatant lies about voter fraud in the 2016 election. Journalists must raise the bar even higher when interviewing Trump and his surrogates, from merely calling out falsehoods to actively putting statements into context and offering facts and data. Failure to aggressively push back on lies and contextualize misleading statements in the “post-truth” era of Trump risks leaving viewers unclear about which party is ultimately correct and tells them only what they don’t know, rather than ensuring they are informed.
On November 27, Trump tweeted, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” In fact, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, is expected to win the popular vote by about 2.5 million votes. Additionally, the Washington Post’s Phillip Bump found just three documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. Nevertheless, Trump’s surrogates later defended his lie in a conference call with reporters.
On December 4, CBS host John Dickerson interviewed Reince Priebus, who Trump has tapped for White House chief of staff, on Face the Nation and addressed Trump’s claims that he would have won the popular vote if not for mass voter fraud:
While Dickerson did tell Priebus that “there is no evidence” that millions voted illegally, he made a series of missteps. First, he allowed Priebus to cite a Wall Street Journal op-ed that recycled discredited evidence, failing to note that the evidence was flawed and misleading. Second, while Dickerson asked if Trump needs to “tighten up his standards of proof,” he allowed Priebus to redirect the conversation away from Trump’s lies to a discussion of Trump’s penchant for tweeting in general. Finally, Dickerson never mentioned any of the numerous studies that show that claims of widespread voter fraud are false.
CBS compounded the problem by issuing a tweet that merely read “Reince Priebus: ‘It’s possible’ millions voted illegally.” Several media outlets have recently botched their headlines and tweets when reporting on false statements made by Trump, omitting context that would illustrate the inaccuracies.
CBS later deleted the tweet, replacing it with this one:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 4, 2016
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed Vice President-elect Mike Pence on This Week and also raised the question of Trump’s voter fraud tweets:
Stephanopoulos did repeatedly press Pence to offer evidence for Trump’s claim and consistently pointed out that these claims of voter fraud are false, but he failed to provide counter-evidence to effectively establish that Trump was wrong. Stephanopoulos pushed back on Pence when he cited a Pew Research Center study as evidence that Trump’s voter fraud claims could be true, noting that the authors of the study said “it is not any evidence about what happened in this election.” This pushback, however, was insufficient to properly contextualize for the audience why this evidence is flawed, leaving it up to them to figure out which Pew study is being cited and why it doesn’t apply. Stephanopoulos also neglected to cite studies that provide persuasive proof that claims of voter fraud are grossly exaggerated and largely inaccurate.
Given the total lack of proof for the right-wing’s voter fraud claims, journalists must be prepared to more thoroughly press Trump surrogates if he continues to lie. And more generally, journalists must be armed with the facts and data they need to hold surrogates accountable on the variety of issues about which President-elect Trump lies. In what has been dubbed a “post-truth” presidency, it will no longer be sufficient to merely say “that’s false.” Journalists must call out instances of cherry-picked data or flawed sources and counteract the misuse of data. Journalists can and must harness the power of fact-checking by using studies and data to relentlessly press Trump and his surrogates in order to convey the truth to the American public.
CBS News provided alt-right white nationalist Richard Spencer with a platform to normalize his racist political movement and praise President-elect Trump without pressing him on his racists comments and stances.
After noting Twitter’s recent suspension of several prominent white nationalist accounts associated with hate speech, CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan asked Richard Spencer if he was “an advocate for an all-white United States of America,” and allowed Spencer to respond “No, I don’t think that is going to happen,” without offering a follow-up question or pressing him on his past racist comments. From the November 17 edition of CBS' CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley:
JOHN DICKERSON (GUEST HOST): In Germany today, President Obama called the spread of fake news online a threat to democracy. Facebook and other social media sites are being criticized for not doing enough to stop bogus stories that seem to dominate the election cycle. Jericka Duncan has more on this.
JERICKA DUNCAN: When a satirical web site headlined a story "Pope Francis shocked the world, backs Trump," the fake news went viral. Waves of false headlines on social media have turned readers into believers. This week, social media giants Facebook and Google said they will go after hoax websites by restricting ad revenue. Facebook is also planning to launch a program allowing users to flag fake news. Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis.
JEFF JARVIS: The slope is very slick if we try the make Facebook and Google and company into censors. You can't fight a position that just because somebody doesn't like it and doesn't trust it, it gets killed, it would be very dangerous to have blacklists and to ban sites, I think.
DUNCAN: Twitter is taking a different approach. A new feature rolling out this week allows users to mute key words, phrases and even entire conversations. Tuesday, it suspended several accounts supported by white nationalists, including Richard Spencer's, a leader of the alt-right movement which is based on white identity.
Are you an advocate for an all-white United States of America?
RICHARD SPENCER: No. I don't think that is going to happen. I want to first raise consciousness of who we are amongst Europeans in the United States, and second, I want to promote policies that really have a realistic chance of being implemented by the Donald Trump administration.
DUNCAN: Twitter's rules prohibit violent threats, harassment and hateful conduct. A spokesperson from Twitter says they don't comment on accounts they've suspended for privacy and security reasons. John?
The Associated Press has reported however that Spencer has “matter-of-factly called for removing African-Americans, Hispanics, and Jews from the United States,” declaring “We’ll help them go somewhere else.”
Duncan’s failure to press Spencer helped normalize a bigot that founded the white nationalist website Alternative Right, where one contributor wrote that “low-IQ Mexican immigration is the greatest threat to America,” and that “we should be heartened that white teenage girls aren’t passing themselves around in black neighborhoods.”
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Surrogates for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump doubled down on Trump’s claim that the media is biased against him and that the “election is being rigged by the national media” in favor of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in a series of interviews on the Sunday morning political talk shows.
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CNN’s Jake Tapper was the only Sunday show host on September 25 to discuss a report that American intelligence officials are probing Russian government ties to a man Trump has identified as a foreign policy adviser, Carter Page. This latest revelation is yet another missed opportunity by the Sunday political talk shows to feature investigative stories about Trump and his campaign over the past month.
On September 23, Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reported that “U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials.” Among the problematic contacts Page has reportedly had with aides to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is Igor Diveykin, who “is believed by U.S. officials to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election.” The article also quoted a Trump spokesperson calling Page an “‘informal foreign adviser’” to Trump.
In an interview with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway on CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper cited the Yahoo! News article and questioned Conway if the campaign had talked to Page about his meetings with Russian officials. Conway denied that Page was part of the Trump campaign at this time and said that he was not authorized to talk to Russia on the campaign’s behalf.
The other Sunday hosts -- NBC’s Chuck Todd, CBS’ John Dickerson, Fox’s Chris Wallace, and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos -- who interviewed Trump adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, and Conway, respectively -- all failed to question their Trump surrogate guests about the report. The only other mentions of the report on the Sunday shows were from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s surrogates, with Clinton running mate Tim Kaine alluding to the “news of this past week [that] shows us a whole series of very serious questions about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia” on CBS’ Face the Nation, and Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon mentioning Page on CNN’s Reliable Sources.
The near blackout of this story from the Sunday shows is turning into a familiar pattern regarding investigative reports on Trump. Over the past month, the Sunday political talk shows have repeatedly failed to feature new reporting that reflects poorly on Trump. On September 4, just days after The Washington Post broke the story that Trump’s foundation illegally gave a political donation in 2013 and that Trump paid the IRS a penalty for it, only CBS’ Dickerson brought it up; on other shows, guests were forced to mention it. The next week, as they were all covering the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, every Sunday show completely ignored the New York Daily News’ investigation that revealed Trump unethically accepted $150,000 in government aid after the attacks and that Trump bragged that one of his buildings was now the largest in the area just hours after the 9/11 attacks. And just last week, the Sunday shows again mostly omitted new reporting on Trump, specifically the news that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was investigating Trump’s charitable foundation over concerns of impropriety and Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek report that detailed the “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” that would be present in the foreign policy of a President Trump due to his deep business ties to foreign countries and businesspeople.
The report on Page also follows Trump’s repeated praise of Putin, who he has called “highly respected within his own country and beyond,” later adding that if Putin “says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” Journalists have slammed Trump for his remarks, noting the country has targeted and murdered journalists.
A Washington Post report that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 fine after his charitable foundation illegally gave a political contribution went mostly ignored by the cable and network Sunday political talk show hosts, with only CBS’ John Dickerson questioning a Trump surrogate about the story.
The September 1 Post article reported that the Donald J. Trump Foundation had “violated tax laws” with a $25,000 political contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who at the time was deciding whether or not to take action against Trump University. The report also highlighted an error, “which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.” According to the Post’s article, the Trump Foundation is still out of compliance because “under IRS rules, it appears that the Trump Foundation must seek to get the money back” from the group which should never have received it:
Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, an official at Trump's company said, after it was revealed that Trump's charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida's attorney general.
The improper donation, a $25,000 gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, was made in 2013. At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.
Earlier this year, The Washington Post and a liberal watchdog group raised new questions about the three-year-old gift. The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the IRS — noting that, as a registered nonprofit, the Trump Foundation was not allowed to make political donations.
The Post reported another error, which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.
In that year's tax filings, The Post reported, the Trump Foundation did not notify the IRS of this political donation. Instead, Trump's foundation listed a donation — also for $25,000 — to a Kansas charity with a name similar to that of Bondi's political group. In fact, Trump's foundation had not given the Kansas group any money.
The prohibited gift was, in effect, replaced with an innocent-sounding but nonexistent donation.
With the breathless media hyping of every new detail about the Clinton Foundation, despite the lack of anything illegal occurring, one would think that the proof of lawbreaking by a charitable foundation founded and named for one of the two major party presidential nominees would attract significant attention from the media. But Face the Nation host John Dickerson was the only Sunday political talk show host to bring up the Post’s findings.
During his interview with Trump campaign surrogate Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Dickerson cited the Post story to ask if it was an example of Trump knowing “how to use political donations to get the system to work for him” because in this situation Trump “gave the money then the investigation didn’t happen”:
JOHN DICKERSON (HOST): I want to ask you about a report in The Washington Post this week about Donald Trump's foundation paying a fine to the IRS for a $25,000 donation it had given to a political committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. She was looking into maybe investigating Trump University, ultimately didn't. Donald Trump has said he knew better than anybody how to use the system, how to use political donations to get the system to work for him. Is that an instance of that in that situation, gave the money then the investigation didn't happen?
ABC’s This Week guest host Martha Raddatz had a similar opportunity to question the Trump campaign about the story when speaking with campaign manager Kellyanne Conway during a 7 minute interview, but failed to bring it up. Fox News’ MediaBuzz and CNN’s Reliable Sources also both failed to even mention the news that Trump paid a fine for his foundation’s illegal act.
On the other Sunday shows where this story was mentioned, it was up to the guests to mention it, usually in the context of the media’s double standard in reporting on the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s emails. When Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden said “we just learned this week that Donald Trump was engaged in a pay to play” with Florida’s attorney general, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace repeatedly interrupted her, before casting the story aside.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, MSNBC contributor Maria Teresa Kumar brought up the report, saying Trump “basically took his foundation money and actually wrote a check to a campaign. That is actually illegal, and he had to pay a fine.”
And on CNN’s State of the Union, commentator Bakari Sellers was the only one to even allude to the story, saying, “we know that Donald Trump actually had a foundation that was pay to play, and we’re back to [Clinton] emails.”
Wash. Post, NY Times Also Give More Prominence To Weiner Saga In Print Than Abuse Allegations Against Trump Campaign CEO
Broadcast network news programs devoted significantly more time to lewd behavior from Anthony Weiner, the husband of an aide to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, than to allegations that Donald Trump's campaign CEO engaged in domestic violence and workplace sexual harassment. The outlets treated the Weiner story as a major campaign issue even though Weiner is playing no direct role in the Clinton campaign.
Politico reported on August 25 that Trump’s campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon, “was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness following an incident with his then-wife in 1996.” The charges were later dropped, but the police report says that Bannon’s wife claimed that he “pulled at her neck and wrist during an altercation over their finances, and an officer reported witnessing red marks on her neck and wrist to bolster her account.” BuzzFeed on August 29 reported that Bannon had also been accused of sexual harassment by a co-worker while working as an investment banker in the 1990s.
On August 29, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, announced that she was separating from Weiner following reports that he had sent lewd photos of himself to another woman.
One might think media would focus more on the Bannon story, which involves allegations of criminality against the CEO of a presidential campaign, than on the dissolution of the marriage of a candidate's aide. That was not the case.
ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted more than half an hour of coverage to the Weiner-Abedin story -- roughly 10 minutes for each network -- according to a Media Matters review of their morning and evening news shows (NBC’s Today and Nightly News, ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, and CBS’ CBS This Morning and Evening News) on August 26, August 29, and the morning of August 30. Those same programs devoted only 39 seconds in total to covering either of the Bannon stories, with all of that coverage coming from Good Morning America.
Two of the nation’s leading newspapers for national political coverage, The New York Times and The Washington Post, similarly gave the Weiner-Abedin story more emphasis in their print editions. Both papers devoted 1,400-word front page articles to their separation. By contrast, the Times placed its August 26 story on Bannon’s alleged abuse on page 13, along with a portion of a page 10 August 27 piece and a single sentence of a page 1 August 27 piece. The Post devoted a large portion of a page A04 article on August 27 to the allegation. Neither paper covered the sexual harassment allegation in their respective print editions.
Not only was the amount of coverage uneven, but in its coverage the broadcast news shows repeatedly framed the Abedin-Weiner story as something that could harm Clinton’s campaign as well as recall for voters Clinton’s own marital problems, a frame that wasn’t applied to the Bannon story.
NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell on Today claimed “of course” there would be political fallout for Clinton, connecting the Abedin story to Clinton not having a press conference and suggesting that it would remind voters “about Hillary Clinton's own choices 20 years ago, 19 years ago,” an apparent reference to Clinton’s decision not to leave her husband after he had an affair.
CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell on Evening News said it was “about the last thing Hillary Clinton's campaign needed, a scandal involving the husband of her top aide Huma Abedin.” O’Donnell also asked CBS political director John Dickerson if the story “change[d]” things for Clinton and her campaign.
ABC correspondent Cecilia Vega on Good Morning America noted that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attempted to turn the separation “into a political attack,” adding that Trump “is not holding back, so is the Clinton campaign worried that this will be a distraction for them?” ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd also claimed the story “is a problem for the Hillary campaign” because “independents out there look at it and say, ‘Do we really want to go back to all this again?’”
The Times and the Post’s coverage made the same connection. The Times alleged the Weiner story “threatens to remind voters about the troubles in the Clintons’ own marriage over the decades” and “evokes the debates that erupted over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of the [Monica] Lewinsky affair.” The Post also pointed to “a different ending to the parallel between Bill and Hillary Clinton and each wife’s public embarrassment by the sexual indiscretions of her politician husband.”
The only mention of either Bannon story on broadcast news shows was during Good Morning America’s August 26 edition, which treated Bannon’s alleged spousal abuse as a passing issue. ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl briefly stated that the domestic violence allegation could cause “more turmoil ahead for the Trump campaign CEO,” but he didn't mention any impact on the overall campaign or Trump specifically. ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos also briefly brought up the domestic violence allegations with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to ask if Trump was “aware of [the allegation], is he OK with it,” to which Conway claimed ignorance and Stephanopoulos quickly moved on.
The coverage of Bannon’s alleged abuse in the Times and the Post, while given less prominence than its Weiner-Abedin coverage, did mention a potential negative impact to Trump’s campaign. The Times claimed that while Bannon’s appointment was “part of an effort to reset a candidacy that has stumbled with minority and female voters,” Bannon “brings to the post his own bumpy background that includes misdemeanor charges of domestic violence.” In an article the next day, the Times noted the abuse allegation has “created distractions for Mr. Trump’s campaign and raised questions about [Trump’s] management style.” The Post also made the same case in an article that same day. However, none of this coverage, in broadcast or print, noted that the Bannon allegations came on the heels of other women claiming Trump had sexually harassed them in the workplace.
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While Some Pundits Point Out The Anti-Gay Record of Trump And The GOP, Others Fall For His Superficial Outreach
While some media figures ignored the GOP’s anti-LGBT party platform to label Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “a champion” of LGBT causes after the candidate mentioned the LGBTQ community during his Republican National Convention acceptance speech, others called out the “fallacious and offensive” idea, and noted that “this year’s GOP platform is one of the most anti-LGBT ever.”
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