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  • Trump Advocated White Nationalism With An "Indoor Voice," And Pundits Loved It 

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER

    After President Donald Trump gave a speech to joint members of Congress filled with exaggerations, lies, and policy plans that contained no specifics -- and in many cases were based on propagating fear about and demonizing immigrants -- the takeaway from pundits and talking heads was somehow that he sounded “presidential.”

    That's how low the bar has been set. So low that because the president sounded like an adult for an hour and refrained from transparently attacking people of color, allies, or the press, media figures forgot the glaring abnormalities of Trump’s presidency thus far. To some in the media, the speech was a “reset” for the new president.

    As soon as he finished speaking, the accolades from pundits began to roll in. Fox’s Chris Wallace said, “I feel like tonight, Donald Trump became the president of the United States.” ABC’s Alex Castellanos similarly said Trump “became president tonight. I think we saw the long-awaited pivot.” MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki claimed that Trump had “a more presidential tone, a more optimistic tone,” and Fox’s Chris Stirewalt said Trump “did sound like the president, look like the president, act like the president.” They weren’t the only ones.

    It wasn’t just pundits on TV either. Newspaper headlines also lauded “a more temperate Trump,” his supposed “milder tones,” and his call for an “end to ‘trivial fights.’”

    Essentially, the media set the bar so low for the speech that when Trump, the president of the United States, sounded like the president of the United States, it was lauded as a victory.

    Not only was that an absurd measure, but the praise delivered by pundits across the broadcast and cable news stations, for the most part, entirely lacked context. One prominent example of this failure was the reaction to Trump’s comments about a slain Navy SEAL officer, William “Ryan” Owens. During his speech, Trump acknowledged Owens’ widow and said that “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.” That portion of the speech was cited by many as a highlight and an “extraordinary moment”:

    CNN’s Van Jones: “He became president of the United States in that moment, period.”

    Politico’s John Bresnahan: “That was a Reaganesque moment for Trump.”

    CNN’s Jim Acosta: “Powerful moment.”

    But there’s a lot more to this story. As NBC’s Katy Tur properly noted, while it was an emotional moment in the speech, it “came after Trump seemed to blame his generals/Obama for Owen’s death” just that morning, and after NBC reported that “senior intelligence sources dispute” the White House’s “characterization of [the] raid as a success.” As Tur pointed out, NBC’s reporting “would mean that Trump isn’t being honest with a grieving wife. And that is anything BUT presidential.”

    The praise also ignored the actual content of Trump’s address. Those lauding the speech as “normal” ignored what was extraordinarily abnormal about it of it. As The Washington Post’s Fact Checker noted, “President Trump’s maiden address to Congress was notable because it was filled with numerous inaccuracies.” And while large parts of the speech simply featured Trump touting what he’s done so far as president, not much about those actions is normal either. According to a New York Times analysis, most of the significant actions and events in Trump’s presidency thus far have been “abnormal.” 

    Those praising parts of the speech also seemed unable to acknowledge the startling differences between the Trump who gave that speech and the Trump from just that morning. Some examples:

    • Some pundits praised Trump for addressing the recent wave of threats against Jewish Community centers. But just hours prior to the address, Trump seemed to imply that those threats could be false flags -- a suggestion he has made before.
    • Many pundits cheered Trump for honoring the Navy SEAL killed in the Yemen raid. Yet earlier that day, Trump blamed the military for Owens’ death, telling Fox & Friends hosts, “They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do, the generals. ... And they lost Ryan.”
    • And all those cheering how “presidential” and “normal” the speech was must have missed the stark and pervasive demonization of immigrants -- from Trump’s announcement that he would set up an office for “victims of immigration crime” to his decision to bring three guests whose family members had been killed by immigrants.

    These remarks, particularly on immigration, served a clear purpose that the fawning punditry seemed to miss. Bloomberg’s Joshua Green, talking to a “senior White House official,” reported that the aide said the speech was aimed to be “‘nationalism with an indoor voice,’” and that Trump “backed off exactly none of his previous policies.”

    Perhaps because Trump’s speech didn’t indicate any real change in policy, the high praise from the press has apparently even caught some of his aides off guard. According to The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, even “some sources in [the White House] are frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech,” noting that “Trump has not changed,” and there is “no big shift in policy coming."

    It’s not the first time the media has fallen for this ruse. Over the past year, media figures have repeatedly either predicted that Trump would finally start acting more respectable or claimed that it had already happened -- that he had finally pivoted. Yet time and time again Trump has reverted back to his usual style, leaving the media the Charlie Brown to Trump’s football-wielding Lucy.

    So yes, Trump may have sounded more like a president than we expected. But a normal-sounding speech isn’t nearly enough to erase the first month of his presidency, which was distinguished by abnormal -- and extremely problematic -- actions, attacks, and rhetoric. With promises of worse to come, it’s crucial that media stop setting the bar so low and start demanding more.

  • Prime-Time Cable Largely Excluded Town Hall Attendees From "Resistance Recess" Interviews

    Talking Heads Drown Out Personal Stories Of Americans Threatened By Obamacare Repeal

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Cable news outlets dedicated considerable attention to the “Resistance Recess” that swept through congressional town hall meetings over the past week, as tens of thousands of Americans voiced their fear and disapproval of Republican plans to dismantle health care reform, among other issues. Yet evening and prime-time coverage of the grass-roots groundswell largely failed to include perspectives from those attendees opposed to efforts to roll back reforms.

    The week of February 18-26 marked the first congressional recess period of 2017 and created an ideal opportunity for American voters concerned with the trajectory of their government to directly petition elected officials face to face. Americans capitalized on this opportunity by flooding in-district town hall events across the country demanding that representatives on both sides of the aisle stand up to President Trump’s radical agenda. Among attendees’ demands was that elected officials present viable solutions to further the cause of health care reform beyond merely “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    Cable news outlets used the town hall turmoil as the basis for 53 evening and prime-time news segments from the start of the recess period through February 27 discussing how the demonstrations might affect the future of health care reform in the United States. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these discussions failed to include input from people voicing disapproval with Republican plans to repeal or significantly alter the ACA at those town halls. Media Matters identified 88 guests during evening and prime-time cable programming related to the town halls -- mostly reporters and political pundits. Only three of the 88 guests were town hall attendees affected by the outcome of this health care debate.

    The February 27 edition of MSNBC’s All In did feature an impassioned interview with cancer survivor and Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin, who, though not identified as a town hall participant, outlined how the ACA granted her access to what would have otherwise been prohibitively expensive life-saving treatments. All three of the actual town hall attendees were featured in two segments aired during the February 22 edition of MSNBC’s For the Record, which featured constituents who attended town halls hosted by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA). In the first segment, an Arkansas constituent named Suzie Bell, who co-founded a rural free health clinic, questioned why Cotton wanted to restrict access for the patients she serves. In the next segment, Louisiana constituents Laura Kelley and Shawon Bernard expressed the collective “frustration” of fellow attendees about a laundry list of issues, including the future of the ACA:

    MSNBC featured the most guests (46) and the most segments (29) focused on the town halls, but only two segments featured the three aforementioned town hall attendees. CNN featured 30 guests across 18 segments, but no town hall attendees in prime-time. Fox News lagged far behind the competition, featuring just 12 guests during 6 segments discussing the town hall protests and also failed to include any attendees.

    CNN's failure to book any town hall attendees during evening or prime-time slots is particularly perplexing given that the network did interview town hall attendees outside of the influential prime-time window. On the February 22 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Brooke Baldwin interviewed Rose Perkins, whose dressing down of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at a town hall the day before had already become a viral sensation. Meanwhile, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon interviewed Kati McFarland, a young woman who credits the ACA with keeping her alive despite her chronic, life-threatening illness and whose heartfelt plea to Cotton created an uproar. But the piece didn’t air until 12:19 a.m. on Saturday, February 25. (McFarland was also interviewed by MSNBC’s Ali Velshi during daytime programming on February 23.)

    The nationwide coalition of demonstrators, which progressive groups like MoveOn.org have dubbed the “Resistance Recess,” found many Republican members of Congress unprepared to face tough questions. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that many constituents stand to lose their health insurance or see their premiums soar if Trump and the GOP succeed in gutting the ACA. Rather than simply reporting on the abstract optics of these demonstrations, media outlets need to focus on the human beings who dedicated their time to safeguard legislation that benefits millions of Americans every day.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis and SnapStream search of transcripts of cable evening and prime-time (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from February 18 through February 27, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: affordable care act or aca or obamacare or healthcare or health care or protester or demonstrator or townhall or town hall.

    The following programs were included in the data: The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, Hardball, For the Record, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

  • STUDY: Broadcast And Cable News Largely Ignored Xenophobic Shooting Of Indian Immigrants

    Fox News’ 14 Seconds Of Coverage Continues Its Pattern Of Dismissing Hate Crimes Against People Of Color

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Broadcast and cable news largely ignored the February 22 shooting of two Indian immigrants in Kansas in which the suspected attacker told the victims to “get out of my country,” devoting mere minutes to the attack. Fox News’ virtual failure to cover the attack fits into the network's larger pattern of severely downplaying hate crimes aimed at people of color.

  • STUDY: Fox News Ignored Transgender Voices While Discussing Rollback Of Protections For Transgender Students

    MSNBC Hosted Four Transgender Guests, And CNN Brought On One

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    From the time it happened through the day that followed President Donald Trump’s rollback of federal trans-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, Fox News failed to include transgender guests who could provide insights about the policy. Of the major cable news networks (MSNBC, Fox, and CNN), MSNBC led the count by hosting four transgender guests, while CNN hosted only one.

    On February 22, the Trump administration revoked the federal protections for trans students implemented by President Barack Obama, which outlined the right of trans students to use the public facilities that match their gender identity. Conservative commentators reacted by pushing the long-debunked myth that sexual predators exploit these types of nondiscrimination protections to sneak into women’s facilities by pretending to be transgender.

    Media Matters analyzed the guests invited on cable news networks to discuss the rollback of the federal trans-inclusive nondiscrimination guidelines from 8 p.m. February 22 until midnight on February 23. We found that Fox News failed to bring on a single transgender guest, perpetuating the network’s long history of trans exclusion. In comparison, MSNBC set the standard by including four transgender guests: Cub Scout Joe Maldonado, actress and activist Laverne Cox, transgender rights advocate Mara Keisling, and Gavin Grimm, whose case against his school over restroom access will go before the Supreme Court. CNN hosted only one trans person, teenager Juliet Evancho, who appeared during the February 23 edition of CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, but on February 22, New Day featured Katharine Prescott, the mother of a trans student who committed suicide. Prescott’s subsequent activism was influential in the implementation of protections during the Obama administration. It is worth noting that CNN also hosted Grimm on the February 24 edition of New Day, but the morning shows of February 24 fell outside of the time frame analyzed by Media Matters.

    While CNN’s and MSNBC’s inclusion of trans voices provided a welcome respite from a trend of underrepresentation, news networks must still work for progress in terms of improving trans visibility. That’s because stories of violence against the transgender community are often ignored, and when news shows do discuss issues that directly affect transgender people, they often fail to include any trans people as guests.

    Because Trump is an avid TV consumer, cable news shows have an increased in influence as platforms for policy discussion, giving the guests included a unique opportunity to send impactful messages. This platform could also be used to boost the voices of those usually underrepresented in the media. And transgender people -- who are often mocked, misgendered, and negatively portrayed on TV news -- deserve a space to directly address misperceptions audiences might have about their lives. Their lived experiences not only add value to segments about legislation that directly affects their lives, it also can enrich the political discussion more broadly. Networks owe it to the transgender community to talk to them, instead of just about them.

    Jared Holt contributed research to this report.

  • STUDY: Nightly Broadcast News Virtually Ignores Rise In Anti-Semitic Threats

    Among Cable Outlets, Fox Had By The Far The Least Prime-Time Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Nightly broadcast news shows have proven incredibly reluctant to cover the spate of anti-Semitic threats and attacks made since President Donald Trump’s election. Cable outlets provided a bit more coverage during prime-time, with Fox News as the exception, clocking just one segment on the topic. Given the rise of the “alt-right” and white nationalist groups -- and given Trump’s repeated reluctance to discuss the rise of anti-Semitism -- it’s particularly important for news media to provide audiences with information on the threats and attacks which have targeted Jewish institutions across the country.

    Anti-Semitic Threats And Attacks Have Been On The Rise

    The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recorded 100 anti-Semitic incidents in the days following now-President Donald Trump’s election. And as Vox’s Sarah Wildman pointed out, the number “may be enormously underreported because, as with all hate crime statistics, the incidents were largely self-reported by groups that may not feel comfortable talking to law enforcement.” In addition, SPLC’s report did not take into account online harassment, which was rampant during the election.

    This wave of anti-Semitic hate has not gone away. Since January, the Jewish Community Center (JCC) Association of North America’s members have received 68 bomb threats at 53 facilities in 26 states and one Canadian province. And in February, vandals damaged more than 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery outside of St. Louis, echoing the vandalism committed by Nazis during World War II.

    Nightly Broadcast And Prime-Time Cable News Have Largely Neglected The Trend

    Despite the fear among many Americans, broadcast news outlets have drastically undercovered these stories. Since the election, ABC’s World News has spent 5 minutes and 45 seconds on the threats, while CBS’ Evening News and NBC’s Nightly News have spent 3 minutes and 1 second and 3 minutes and 6 seconds, respectively on the topic. Out of the eight segments the newscasts aired in the four-month period, four aired on NBC, and two aired on each ABC and CBS. NBC was the only network to report on the trend in January; all the other segments took place in February.

    Prime-time shows (between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.) on CNN and MSNBC fared slightly better. In total, CNN aired 10 segments on the trend, devoting a total of 45 minutes and 38 seconds to it, while MSNBC’s five segments clocked in at 20 minutes and 23 seconds. All of the segments, except one that MSNBC aired in November, took place between February 17 and 22.

    Fox News’ coverage, on the other hand, was especially abysmal. Since November 9, the network has only aired one segment on the trend, on the February 21 edition of Hannity, and host Sean Hannity used it to segue into a smear campaign against Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN).

    Now More Than Ever, Media Must Highlight These Incidents

    Especially now, media must devote significant attention to these hate incidents and threats. During the election, the anti-Semitic white nationalist movement known as the “alt-right” rose from the fringe to become one of the most significant factions in conservative media. Trump’s candidacy and subsequent election have also elevated the white nationalist movement.

    And media cannot rely on Trump to bring up these incidents himself. It was only after he came under increasing pressure -- and some reporters made failed attempts to broach the subject -- that Trump finally acknowledged and denounced the rising violence aimed at Jews, on February 21. If media continue to wait for Trump to acknowledge these incidents before reporting on them, viewers may never know that they are happening.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for mentions of “Jewish,” “cemetery,” “JCC,” “anti-Semitism,” “anti-Semite,” “anti-Semitic,” “St. Louis,” “University City,” and “Chesed Shel Emeth Society” on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS November 9 through February 22. Mentions on cable news must have taken place between 8 and 11 p.m. on weekdays and mentions on broadcast news must have taken place during the nightly newscasts on a weekday. Segments included in the analysis featured a significant discussion of a specific incident or threat or a significant discussion of the overall trend in anti-Semitic threats and incidents.

  • How The Media Covered A Day Without Immigrants

    Analysis From Morning Cable Shows: Fox Performed The Worst

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    On February 16, businesses around the country closed and many immigrants vowed to not spend any money in a demonstration known as “A Day Without Immigrants” to highlight the vital contributions immigrants make to the U.S. economy and culture. The demonstration was a response to anti-immigrant sentiment and policies enacted by President Donald Trump and his team. During their morning coverage -- from 6 a.m. and noon -- MSNBC and CNN both sent reporters to cover the protest, while Fox News dedicated less than a minute to the story during a series of headlines.

    The New York Times reported that “what began as a grass-roots movement quickly reached the highest levels of federal government,” noting that the effort spread from places like construction sites in New York City all the way to federal government offices including in the Pentagon. The Washington Post wrote that the strike is a response “to a new administration that has taken a hard-line stance on immigration policies.” According to NPR, the protest also comes “after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents alarmed immigrant rights advocates by arresting some 680 people in raids across the U.S. last week.”

    On morning cable news, MSNBC and CNN both sent reporters to cover the boycott, with MSNBC providing the only original interview related to the strike among the cable news channels. In the span of the 6 hours analyzed by Media Matters, MSNBC dedicated only close to 4 minutes to the story, while CNN dedicated just over 1 minute and 30 seconds. Fox News’ Heather Nauert reported on the story twice for a total of 40 seconds, both in news headline reads during Fox & Friends. MSNBC was the only network to feature the story in more than one show, mentioning it in three.

    Fox News’ coverage dismissed the movement as immigrants “giving themselves a day off work,” and FoxNews.com quoted anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) as one of the protest’s “several detractors.”

    On the other hand, MSNBC’s Gadi Schwartz interviewed immigrant business owner Lorena Cantarovici in Denver, CO, who shut down her restaurant as part of the protest. Cantarovici recounted her story of coming to the country with “just a backpack, less than $300,” and described how she is in the process of opening her third restaurant. Her interview illustrated the job opportunities immigrants create for others and highlighted the real life consequences of Trump’s policies, with Cantarovici adding that she is “part of the model of the small business economy here”:

    LORENA CANTAROVICI: Maria Empanada is an American business, and it's a dream that came through an immigrant that came to this country trying to look for a better life. So this is not something that is made only by me. I have a team. And all those people have the same ethic, and they want to work hard, and they want to be part of this dream also. So, I don't want to forget that I'm an immigrant. And that's why I'm supporting this day.

    GADI SCHWARTZ: And you were saying that an immigrant started this. That's you. You came here with a backpack on. Tell me a little bit about that.

    CANTAROVICI: Just with a backpack, less than $300, and now I'm opening my third location very soon. I am giving job opportunities to people. I’m trying to motivate them every single day, and I'm part of the model of the small business economy here. So yeah, that's what we are doing.

    SCHWARTZ: And what does this mean to the people that work here? What have they told you?

    CANTAROVICI: Well, the decision was made by all of us, and it was very important for me to hear my people, right? So this is a very specific way to demonstrate that immigrants here are very important, and a day without immigrants can create a very big impact. So this is a country that is made by immigrants. Imagine all of us making just a silence for a day? I decided to make a silence.

    Right-wing media figures, however, took to Twitter to criticize the protest. Conservative author Dinesh D’Souza asked, “Will illegals guarantee not to rob or murder any US citizens today? #DayWithoutIllegals.” Right-wing radio host Steve Deace tweeted that “we are not a nation of immigrants. We are a nation of citizens. #DayWithoutImmigrants.” Radio host Wayne Dupree wrote that “anyone falling for this stupid day should be deported”:

    As of 2013, “more than 41 million immigrants lived in the U.S.,” which makes coverage of immigration of crucial interest to a significant segment of the total population. Meanwhile, news outlets elevated nativist hate groups and their xenophobic sentiments throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and afterwards. Trump started his candidacy by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and criminals, and harassment against immigrants was the “top type of harassment reported” in a spike after Election Day. Despite reporting on “A Day Without Immigrants” for only 4 minutes, MSNBC set the bar for the protest’s cable coverage by highlighting an immigrant voice and covering the story throughout the day.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Snapstream’s CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News transcripts between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m. on February 16 for mentions of the word “immigrant” or the phrase “day without.”

  • Trump Supporters Receive “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey” Moments After President Slams Reporters

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Moments after President Donald Trump concluded a press conference at which he unleashed numerous attacks on the press, his fundraising committee circulated a “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey” urging supporters to “do your part to fight back against the media’s attacks and deceptions.”

    Trump and his administration have engaged in an unprecedented war on the press. The president routinely singles out legitimate outlets and reporters as “fake news,” and his chief strategist has labeled the press the “opposition party.” During his February 16 press conference, Trump was particularly "combative" with reporters, turning the event -- which was ostensibly to announce a new labor secretary nominee -- into a “screed against the media.”

    The email blast from the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which presumably is also an attempt to build its email list, calls his supporters “our last line of defense against the media’s hit jobs” and urges readers to fill out a “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey” in order to “do your part to fight back against the media’s attacks and deceptions”:

    The survey asks respondents whether they “trust” CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC to “report fairly on Trump's presidency” and asks, “On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans”:

    The survey also includes laughable push-poll questions such as, “Were you aware that a poll was released revealing that a majority of Americans actually supported President Trump's temporary restriction executive order?”; “Do you believe that political correctness has created biased news coverage on both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism?”; and “Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?”

    The survey contains at least one serious grammatical error:

    The last question of the survey asks, “Do you believe that our Party should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable?”

    Submitting the survey leads the user to a fundraising pitch for Trump Make America Great Again Committee, “a joint fundraising committee composed of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (‘DJTP’) and the Republican National Committee (‘RNC’).”

    During the campaign, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee sent out a similar “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey,” complaining that the media was “trying to rig this election against us”:

    The full February 16 survey: