Joe Scarborough: "I Wish Everyone Would Just Be Quiet" About Trump's Spat With Intelligence Community
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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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MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and his Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski have been criticized repeatedly for their “softball” coverage of President-elect Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and into the transition, and they’ve lashed out in response. And yet, since the beginning of 2017, their Trump reporting has been nothing less than fawning.
After a New York Times article noted that Scarborough and Brzezinski were present at a New Year’s Eve party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and a reporter suggested Scarborough may have “partied” with the president-elect, Scarborough resorted to smearing the reporter instead of setting the record straight. The MSNBC host “blew up,” “accused [the reporter] of lying” and “pushing fake news,” and “sought to undermine [his] credibility." This “over-the-top response,” according to The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers, was in line with Scarborough’s sensitivity “to any suggestion that he is too cozy with” Trump.
And yet, while Scarborough has insisted that he and Brzezinski have “treated” Trump “tough” throughout the campaign, he has chosen to spend the first two weeks of 2017 bragging about how he and Brzezinski have “known and have been friends with Donald Trump for a decade,” praising him as “the master of many things,” and attacking journalists who apparently “aren’t doing their jobs” while covering Trump. Watch:
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.
A chyron during MSNBC Live erroneously claimed that President-elect Donald Trump had acknowledged Russia’s alleged role in hacking designed to swing the 2016 election in his favor, but during the same segment his repeated refusal to do so was the main topic of conversation.
Trump has repeatedly and publicly refused to acknowledge Russia’s alleged hacking, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. On Friday, after being briefed about the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia sought to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, Trump released a muddled statement that largely downplayed Russia’s alleged actions. But you wouldn’t know that from MSNBC’s on-screen text.
During the 3pm edition of MSNBC Live on January 9, on-screen text read, “Trump, Team Acknowledge Russia’s Role In Election Hacks.”
But in the accompanying segment, host Kate Snow and guest Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the Department of Defense, were largely focused on Trump’s repeated refusal to accept the findings presented by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Snow noted comments from senior Trump aide Kellyanne Conway indicating that Trump may roll back some of the sanctions imposed by President Obama in retaliation for the alleged election interference, and explained that other Republicans -- like Sen. John McCain -- have not shown the same reluctance to accept the conclusions of the intelligence agencies.
Snow also displayed a tweet Trump sent this weekend, in which he brushed off concerns about the hacking and said that “the only reason” it is a topic of conversation “is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed.” She then asked Bash if Trump would keep up “this kind of rhetoric” and continue “to be skeptical of all this” as he takes office.
In response, Bash told Snow that “in some ways, [Trump’s] statement Friday was a little better, because he actually didn’t dispute the core finding that Russia did try to hack our election, but I do think Trump team members will tell you -- and I’ve heard directly from them -- they see this in a political context.”
Trump’s official statement, issued immediately after his briefing on the topic, refused to place direct blame on Russia, instead muddling both their potential involvement in the hacking and the allegation that they did so with the intention of aiding Trump’s candidacy: “While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”
As Politico reported, despite RNC chairman Reince Priebus’ statement that Trump accepted reports of Russia’s behavior, “Trump has only indirectly acknowledged the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the election and has consistently downplayed its significance — and the president-elect has a history of later contradicting what his surrogates tell the media.”
Yet MSNBC’s chyron told a different story, one at odds not only with Trump’s repeated statements on the topic during the campaign but also with his behavior since the first details of the intelligence community’s findings began to be publicized. The chyron focused the conversation on Trump’s fleeting, begrudging, and inadequate reference to Russia’s potential role in hacking, letting him off the hook for his months of obfuscation and avoid the larger question of why Russia wanted to help him.
As Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College who has “conducted several studies on fact-checking in recent years” explained to Poynter during the 2016 campaign when CNN began using chyrons to fact-check Trump in real time, it is crucial chyrons relay accurate information "because cable news chyrons often reinforce misleading messages or create doubt over relatively settled questions."
Joy Reid Models Four Must-Do’s When Reporting On Reproductive Rights Topics During The Trump Administration
During the January 8 edition of MSNBC’s AM Joy, host Joy Reid put on a master class in how to cover anti-choice lawmakers’ latest attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.
The Sunday after House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Republicans would prioritize defunding the essential health care provider, Reid demonstrated four best practices for reporting on reproductive rights topics: hosting diverse guests, discussing the material consequences of policy decisions, including personal testimony in reports, and emphasizing the disparate impact of anti-choice laws on marginalized communities.
Planned Parenthood is an essential health care provider for millions of Americans -- many of them low-income patients reliant on Medicaid to access primary care. To justify defunding Planned Parenthood, right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have falsely claimed that the organization’s primary goal is to coerce women into having abortions using taxpayer money.
In reality, this could not be further from the truth. Due to the Hyde Amendment, the federal government is already barred from funding abortion services. Instead, the government reimburses Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services provided to low-income patients via Medicaid -- just like any other health care provider. Although right-wing media argue that so-called “community health clinics” (CHCs) could absorb this patient demand should Planned Parenthood clinics close, experts agree that CHCs lack the capacity, experience, and resources to replace Planned Parenthood.
In its coverage of the defunding effort, AM Joy set the standard for reporting the consequences of congressional Republicans’ politically motivated attack on health care access -- and other outlets should take note.
During the January 8 segment, Reid hosted two women to discuss the impacts of defunding Planned Parenthood: the organization's president, Cecile Richards, and the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), Jessica González-Rojas.
In a previous study of prime-time cable news coverage of reproductive rights topics, Media Matters found that networks relied heavily on male panelists to discuss the consequences of policy decisions about abortion and reproductive rights issues. This problem of representation is also more generally borne out across the Sunday political talk shows, which have overwhelmingly relied on guests who are white, conservative, and male.
Hosting diverse guests is essential to providing in-depth, quality coverage of many topics. Non-white and non-male perspectives in newsrooms are often rare, a trend that should incite concern not only about equality but also about coverage accuracy.
AM Joy also focused on the material impacts of defunding Planned Parenthood -- not just the political spectacle of the legislative fight.
At the start of the segment, Reid immediately debunked the pervasive conservative arguments about the consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood:
JOY REID: Let’s be clear about this so-called defunding legislation -- what it would really do. It would prohibit Medicaid recipients from obtaining any kind of services from Planned Parenthood. We're not talking about abortion services because federal law already prohibits those being paid for with federal dollars. We're talking no cancer screenings, no contraception, no STD testing, no medical services as all. The defunding will be packaged with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which is currently providing health insurance to 22 million people and counting.
Richards and González-Rojas each provided examples of the consequences that defunding Planned Parenthood would have for a number of patients across the country. As Richards explained, “Any senator who votes [to defund] is hurting women in their own home state” because they are “essentially saying to low-income women, 'You can't go to Planned Parenthood for your cancer screenings and birth control.’”
González-Rojas agreed, adding that when Indiana denied Planned Parenthood state Medicaid reimbursements, “we saw an STI outbreak,” and when Texas blocked the reimbursements, “we saw the rates of unintended pregnancy and birth increasing. We heard stories of women splitting birth control pills to make it last longer.”
Throughout the January 8 segment, Reid emphasized personal testimony from herself, Richards, and González-Rojas about relying on Planned Parenthood for essential health care.
Reid noted that Planned Parenthood was “the place where, when I graduated from college and had no money and was broke and had a low-paying job, [I] got all my health care.” Richards echoed the sentiment, explaining that “one in five women in this country go to Planned Parenthood for health care in their lifetime, including me, including you.”
AM Joy also provided a platform to discuss the disparate impact of anti-choice laws, which have a greater impact on marginalized communities than on other groups.
As González-Rojas explained:
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: I think a good example comes from Texas when we saw the defunding of a lot of the family planning services in Texas. We saw a health crisis happen. We saw health disparities happen. Things like cervical cancer, which is largely preventable, Latinas had huge rates of cervical cancer and that's something that they shouldn't have happen in their life. If they have access to regular screenings, paps, mammograms -- all the services that Planned Parenthood provides -- those types of things would be prevented. So this is a disproportionate impact on communities of color, on immigrant communities, on low-income women and families, young people, so a fight against Planned Parenthood is a fight against our communities.
Because the economics of accessing necessary health care are already so precarious for many communities, networks and outlets should emphasize the disproportionate impact anti-choice laws have on these groups whenever possible.
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Joe Scarborough, Megyn Kelly, Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice Connection, And Greta Van Susteren Will Just Make Things Worse
UPDATE: Greta Van Susteren's MSNBC show "For The Record" will reportedly begin January 9.
After running a proto-fascist campaign, President-elect Donald Trump will bring his hate, misogyny, and bigotry to the White House at the end of the month. And when he does, NBC will have a machine ready to normalize him. Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough is cozying up to Trump, the network is literally paying Trump through Celebrity Apprentice, and MSNBC is reportedly in talks to hire Greta Van Susteren, a longtime Fox News host with a history of treating Trump with kid gloves. And now Megyn Kelly, who famously buried the hatchet with Trump by lobbing him a softball interview and then withheld information about him until after the election, is also going to work for NBC.
By any measure, the Trump normalization effort at NBC begins at the top, with the network actually paying money to Trump as a result of his Celebrity Apprentice executive producer credit. The problem here is simple: NBC will have a fiduciary relationship with the president of the United States. The network now has an incentive to weigh aggressive reporting about the president-elect against what it might lose in revenue if Trump’s reputation is damaged. NBC, after all, is the network that had the hot mic tape of Trump bragging about sexual assault -- but it’s not the outlet that broke that news.
The tangles of the Trump-NBC connection were reflected in Matt Lauer’s recent interview with new Celebrity Apprentice host Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which the two downplayed the conflict of interest posed by Trump’s role in the show. Far from raising concerns about a financial arrangement between a network and the president, Lauer instead teased the increasing personal involvement Trump could have on the show as the season goes on. That’s normalization, and it’s driven by a desire for profit margin, plain and simple. As the Trump administration draws nearer, we’re seeing signs that this approach could repeat itself in the news division.
Megyn Kelly announced her move to NBC on Tuesday. Kelly’s schtick is old hat for those who watch Fox News closely. She’ll have one good moment that gets an absurd amount of press and defines the narrative, and she’ll follow it up by making numerous terrible remarks -- often involving bigotry or race baiting of some kind -- that mainstream journalists just seem to forget in the long run. In fact, promoting bigotry was something of a specialty for Kelly at Fox News, as she helped build her name by obsessively pushing the baseless conspiracy that the Obama administration had declined to pursue voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party for racial and political reasons. She would later infamously declare that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white. As Gawker’s Sam Biddle put it, “To Megyn Kelly, black rage is pervasive when she wants you scared, insignificant when she wants you ignorant.”
The thing is, with a certain crowd of media elites, Kelly’s terrible remarks never stick the way the good moments do. Just look at all the mainstream positive puff pieces on Kelly. One is left to wonder how many of these people regularly watched her show.
Her experience with Trump during the 2016 election is typical Megyn Kelly: In the first presidential primary debate, she confronted Trump about his track record of insulting women. With that query, she cemented her reputation among two crowds: the media elites who loved it, and the “alt-right” misogynists who are railing against Kelly to this day.
But despite her very public feud with Trump, during the campaign, Kelly’s Fox News show was a perfect example of normalization. Even though she posed a tough question to Trump during the debate (and asked the occasional tough question to his surrogates), she also gave Trump a welcoming platform and reinforced the bigoted tropes that he built his campaign on.
Even weeks before the debate, Kelly had set the tone for her campaign, defending Trump’s racist remarks about immigrants by positively citing Ann Coulter’s book Adios America.
And then, just days after being showered with mainstream praise for her debate question, Kelly turned to disgraced former detective Mark Fuhrman for analysis about protests in Ferguson, MO. (Fuhrman is so racist that even Fox News host and Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson has called him a bigot.) And in the weeks and months following the debate, while Trump raged about Kelly and the press ate it up, Kelly was mainstreaming a hate group, pushing bigotry against transgender people, complaining about a “thug mentality” in black communities, sneering at black protesters, and attacking a Department of Justice plan to address anti-Muslim rhetoric. Kelly blamed African-Americans who were the victims of police violence and even lashed out at one black protester for looking a police officer in the eyes. And all this was just in 2015, not to mention 2016. None of this behavior got the press that her big moment confronting Trump did.
And even when Kelly failed, it didn’t stick. Her prime-time show on Fox Broadcasting Co. last May was supposed to be a huge breakout moment. It was her chance to show she could be a “star” without the lower expectations that come with being a journalist on Fox News. Instead, the show was roundly considered a disaster, and it contained one of the worst Trump interviews of the entire election, up there with anything Sean Hannity aired. And yet, when news broke of Kelly moving to NBC, this catastrophe was largely forgotten.
That’s not all. Kelly met with Trump before the taping of that special and then withheld details about the meeting in order to make news with her book, Settle For More, released November 15. It was only after the election that Kelly revealed Trump was trying to bribe journalists behind the scenes. If Kelly’s secretive meeting with Trump sounds familiar, it’s because her new colleague Joe Scarborough is playing the same game.
Scarborough spent a good part of the election season carrying water for Trump. He questioned whether the timing of sexual assault allegations against Trump were “a coincidence.” He defended a Trump ad that the ADL condemned as anti-Semitic. He lied about Trump’s prior foreign policy positions. He mocked David Fahrenthold’s reporting for The Washington Post about the Trump Foundation. He called Trump’s racism and bigotry just part of a “character” that Trump was playing. He ignored Trump scandals. He excused Trump’s rhetoric, claiming Trump was “exhausted” from being on television. He credited Trump with a “dominating” debate performance. He dismissed Trump’s history of birtherism. He sneered at the idea that Trump was graded on a curve. He downplayed a comprehensive New York Times report on Trump’s treatment of women.
Like Kelly, when Scarborough and his co-host were given a high-profile prime-time interview with Trump, they completely dropped the ball, conducting a friendly chat rather than pressing him on any issue. (The casual tone continued when the cameras were off.) It’s no wonder that even a conservative radio host declared that Scarborough had “turned his show into a Trump Super PAC for six months.” An NBC pollster made a similar point. And Morning Joe devolved into a screaming match when Bill Kristol called out Scarborough for “rewriting history.”
From time to time, Scarborough was lucid about the danger Trump poses, even as late as August when Scarborough demanded the GOP ditch Trump as its nominee. Famously, Scarborough told viewers that Trump had allegedly asked during a security briefing why America cannot use its nuclear weapons. But Scarborough’s occasional Trump skepticism never lasted.
Since the election, Scarborough and Brzezinski have been all in for Trump. They have met with him in person and even boasted on air that they “speak frequently” with the president-elect. Scarborough said that he personally thinks Trump believes in climate science, despite evidence to the contrary. He also downplayed pro-Trump fake news, and he and Brzezinski both tried to whitewash the racism and bigotry out of Trump’s campaign.
Along with meeting with Trump and defending him on air, Scarborough and Brzezinski also regularly get scoops on his transition. In December, the pair, dressed in pajamas for their holiday show, broke the news that Trump was willing to start a nuclear arms race.
Scarborough also recently met with Trump at Mar-A-Lago during Trump’s New Year's’ Eve party.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 2, 2017
Scarborough denied being there for a party, telling CNN’s Brian Stelter that he was meeting with Trump to lobby for an on-air interview and that he was surprised to see people in tuxedos when he arrived. On Monday, he spoke with CNN’s Dylan Byers about the uproar over the incident, repeatedly invoking other reporters’ relationships with various politicians to defend himself.
Scarborough’s defensive answers to Byers give away one major problem with his close relationship with Trump: The need to protect Trump’s reputation can cloud Scarborough’s judgment. Morning Joe’s absurd defense of Trump’s position on climate change is a perfect example. With no proof in his favor, Scarborough simply asserted that Trump believes in climate science, ignoring mountains of evidence to the contrary.
Trump’s increasingly gushing coverage on MSNBC may soon not be limited to Morning Joe. MSNBC reportedly may hire former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren for its 6 p.m. hour (Update: Van Susteren's move is now official). Van Susteren has given Trump a welcoming platform for years. Before the Republican primary, Trump appeared more times on Van Susteren’s On The Record than on the rest of the Fox News prime-time shows combined. During the Republican primary, Van Susteren had Trump on for over five hours, dwarfing other candidates. During these appearances, Trump pushed birtherism, claimed Obama didn’t write his own memoir, and made bigoted remarks about refugees. And Andrew Kaczynski chronicled more of Trump’s moments from Van Susteren’s show.
To be fair, On The Record was not the worst on Fox News, and Van Susteren may well have been playing to the conservative audience. But the absolute worst Trump hagiographic moment during his campaign came during her “documentary” interview with his campaign. Here’s how the special looks when you take out the Trump family’s answers.
Onlookers harshly criticized the special, with MSNBC host -- and potential future colleague -- Chris Hayes declaring that it was reminiscent of state media under a dictator.
A glimpse of what state media will look like after Glorious Leader Trump is victorious. https://t.co/5viCwg9OBg
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 26, 2016
As of now, Van Susteren’s hiring is still a rumor and may not come to pass. But either way, a likely factor in MSNBC’s desire to add her to its lineup is her established track record of getting access to Trump, which she certainly didn’t accomplish because she subjected him to tough interviews.
There are other problem spots on NBC News and MSNBC. Meet The Press fell for Trump’s spin on climate change, just as it bought his take on North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law. The show has also at various points ignored or glossed over stories like the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Trump University settlement, the investigation of the Trump Foundation, the proven lawbreaking at the Trump Foundation, the Democracy Spring protests, some of Trump’s sketchy ties to Russia, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. The hosts did find time to let Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz relitigate the invasion. They also let Glenn Beck attempt to rehabilitate his reputation -- twice. And it’s not just one show. The spectre of increasing Trump normalization talk on MSNBC brings to mind the network’s shady history in the first term of the Bush administration.
MSNBC’s prime-time voices like Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell are resisting efforts to normalize Trump. But it’s unclear whether they can win that fight with the leading voices at MSNBC and NBC News pushing the other way, much less with the network itself in bed with Trump. And if Trump puts net neutrality rules on the table, NBC’s parent company, Comcast, would surely have an interest.
All of this bears close watching. But the long and short of it is that the network seems primed to become a Trump normalization machine.
In short, Fox News finally has competition.
Graphic by Sarah Wasko
The press failed to accurately convey the implications of a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the lead-up to the election. Now that Donald Trump is the president-elect, media must improve their health care coverage by contextualizing their stories about a potential ACA repeal and explaining the impact it would have on millions of Americans and the health care system as a whole.
A recent Media Matters study found that in the weeks leading up to the election, television journalists overwhelmingly failed to ask any substantive questions about Trump’s health care policies or the consequences of repealing the ACA. In the two weeks before Election Day, there were only four instances of broadcast or cable news hosts or reporters bringing up a substantive question about Trump’s supposed Obamacare replacement amid 77 segments ostensibly focused on health care. This was not the first time media failed to inform the public about the Republican Party’s extremist health care policy agenda. Another Media Matters study found that evening news shows virtually ignored Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s resurrection of his Medicare privatization scheme, a proposal that could have dangerous consequences for a program relied on by more than 55 million Americans.
During the campaign, media outlets also lauded Trump for giving a so-called “policy” speech on health care, ignoring that the actual speech contained little to no policy specifics. This lack of attention to detail reflects a broader theme in election coverage, as studies found media overwhelmingly avoided substantive discussion of policy, focusing instead on “scandals” plaguing the Republican and Democratic nominees.
While cable and broadcast news tended to avoid robust discussions of the impact of health care policy, right-wing media filled the void with rampant misinformation. Since the ACA passed in 2010, conservative news outlets have consistently attacked the health law with complete fictions, claiming it will explode the budget, create death panels, bankrupt Medicare, end in a “death spiral,” and facilitate a government takeover of the health care system.
Today, media outlets regularly provide Trump surrogates with free airtime to push misinformation and avoid substantive discussion. In a series of January 3 interviews, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway was given a free pass on health care policy by ABC’s Good Morning America, which neglected to even bring up the looming repeal of Obamacare. NBC’s Today and CNBC’s Squawk Box failed to push Conway with follow-up questions about how exactly the incoming administration plans to maintain popular health care reforms while repealing the law that created them. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Conway was allowed to push vague proposals for creating health savings accounts and allowing insurers to sell across state lines (both proposals have been highly criticized). When asked if the replacement plan is “ready to go,” Conway deflected by suggesting that planning could not start until Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is confirmed. The Morning Joe hosts failed to raise questions about the potential impact of the policies she promoted and allowed her to deflect from questions about the replacement plan to the irrelevant question of cabinet nominations.
Trump and congressional Republicans pledged to make repeal of the ACA one of their top priorities, which means the press must immediately rethink its strategy when covering health care policy and focus on specifics. Media outlets must contextualize the impact of repealing Obamacare in terms of the gains that have already been achieved and how those improvements will be affected or reversed by Republican policies. Health care policy is inherently complex and confusing -- it’s the media’s job to break down the complexity and explain how repealing Obamacare will impact the lives of every American.
The implementation of the ACA resulted in a record low number of uninsured Americans -- 8.6 percent in September 2016, down from 16 percent in 2010. According to estimates from the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20 million Americans have gained health care coverage as a result of the law.
The ACA’s expansion of Medicaid extended health care coverage to more than 14 million low-income Americans. Studies of the expansion showed that it helped to combat income- and race-based coverage disparities in the insurance market, improved access to coverage for people with disabilities, and significantly improved state budgets in states that accepted federal funds for the expansion.
The implementation of the ACA significantly improved the condition of women’s health care coverage in the U.S. The ACA’s preventive services provision greatly improved access to birth control by eliminating copays -- expanding coverage to millions of women and dramatically reducing out-of-pocket costs. The ACA banned sex discrimination in health care, and put a stop to the widespread practice of “gender rating” in which health insurance companies charged women higher rates for comparable plans made available to men. The law also improved access to maternity care by classifying it as an essential service.
Repeal of the ACA would permit the return of discriminatory practices like gender rating, reducing overall access to health care and significantly increasing out-of-pocket health care costs for women.
The ACA helped the fight in achieving LGBTQ equality by dramatically improving access to health care for LGBTQ patients often targeted by discriminatory practices (like dropping individuals with pre-existing conditions), prohibiting sex discrimination, and guaranteeing protections to married same-sex couples regardless of the state in which they reside. Studies have shown that the ACA has reduced the number of uninsured LGBTQ people and decreased health disparities in the LGBTQ community. The law provided marketplace insurance subsidies to nearly 732,000 individuals, and its expansion of Medicaid was particularly beneficial to LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately likely to experience poverty and homelessness.
Repeal of the ACA would allow insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of gender, strip coverage for transgender people and transition-related care, and increase the number of uninsured people by repealing the marketplace subsidies and Medicaid expansion.
The ACA has extended the solvency of Medicare by over 10 years, despite false claims to the contrary from right-wing opponents of the program. Discussions of Medicare’s budget outlook typically refer to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance program -- which covers hospital visits, nursing care, and other medical costs. Studies have shown that the ACA has extended the full budgetary solvency of the Hospital Insurance program through 2028, after which “payroll taxes and other revenue will still cover 87 percent of Medicare hospital insurance costs.” In addition to enhancing Medicare’s budget outlook, the ACA improved senior care by reducing prescription costs and extending coverage to key services.
Medicare spending will increase by $350 billion over the next decade if Congress repeals the ACA, accelerating the program’s insolvency. Potential plans to privatize Medicare will gut access to care and cause skyrocketing health care costs for the elderly.
Implementation of the ACA has reduced the budget deficit even more than was originally predicted by the Congressional Budget Office. Studies have shown that since the implementation of the ACA, while premiums have increased steadily, the number of individuals struggling to pay medical bills has steadily declined. While costs overall increase, they have increased by a much smaller margin than they would have if the ACA had not been enacted. Additionally, the ACA helps to combat economic inequality in the U.S., as it increases incomes in low-income households by reducing health care costs through mechanisms like the Medicaid expansion.
The ACA helps to fight the significant health disparities among Americans, expanding minority access to free preventive care, improving the overall quality of care in minority communities, and reducing the number of uninsured persons of color. The ACA invested in community health centers, whose patients are primarily minorities. The ACA provided the foundation for other efforts to combat inequities in the health care system for communities of color, including the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.
The ACA banned health insurance companies from engaging in medical underwriting, most commonly known as discriminating against individuals for pre-existing conditions. If the ACA were repealed, an estimated 50 to 129 million individuals -- or between 19 and 50 percent of non-elderly Americans -- could be denied access to affordable health care coverage for a pre-existing condition. This fundamental reform protects millions of Americans from being needlessly priced out of the insurance market or denied coverage for common conditions like acne or cataracts.
Despite some claims that a Republican-sponsored replacement package could maintain the pre-existing conditions ban, existing potential plans significantly weaken consumer protections and fail to maintain the same level of coverage provided by the ACA.
The ACA substantially increased the number of insured young adults -- by 5.5 million individuals -- by allowing them to remain on their parent’s health insurance plan until the age of 26. Given the high unemployment rate for people ages 18-29, this provision provides a crucial lifeline to that demographic.
While this rule is one of the most popular parts of the ACA, proponents of repeal have yet to explain how they could keep this provision while getting rid of the other parts (like the insurance mandate) that help pay for it.
The ACA greatly expanded coverage of mental health care services by requiring that most plans -- including all plans sold in the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplaces -- cover mental health services, classifying them as essential services. By eliminating medical underwriting and requiring parity between mental and physical health services, the ACA extended coverage to those who were previously refused on the basis of their mental health issues.
While the mental health coverage in the ACA is far from perfect, repeal will undercut the law’s achievements, gut coverage for tens of millions of people with mental illnesses, and roll back other positive gains in related mental health legislation.
In 2016, right-wing media’s use of racially charged and bigoted statements hit new lows, featuring widely condemned segments reliant on racial caricatures, bigoted attempts to blame progressives for the actions of white nationalists, and slurs directed against other media figures. Here are the most bigoted stories and statements from right-wing media figures over the last year:
With hate crimes against Muslims on the rise and an administration that frequently makes anti-Muslim statements on its way in, cable news shows must work harder to include Muslim experts, advocates, and community leaders in order to provide a good reflection of the diversity and authenticity of American Muslim experiences.
According to FBI statistics, anti-Muslim hate crimes have been on the rise for several years, shooting up 67 percent between 2014 and 2015 “from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015,” their highest since the year of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Though FBI hate crime statistics for 2016 won’t be released until the end of 2017, according to a joint study by CAIR and ThinkProgress, there have been 111 reported anti-Muslim incidents in America since the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris, 53 of them in the month of December 2015 alone.
Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, which tracked the connection between political rhetoric and anti-Muslim attacks during the the presidential campaign season, found that there have been approximately 180 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence in the one year period after the first candidate announced his bid for the White House in March 2015. And since Trump’s election less than two months ago, there have been at least 150 reported hate incidents, 29 of which were inspired by anti-Muslim sentiment, according to a ThinkProgress analysis that “focuses on moments of more targeted harassment and hatred.”
Despite the undeniable upward trend of violence against American Muslims, right-wing media have consistently dismissed this trend and cast doubt on the discrimination American Muslims face. On December 7, 2015, the same day Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Fox’s The Five co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle and Jesse Watters used the opportunity to criticize the Obama administration's call for tolerance toward Muslims by denying the existence of discrimination against people of that faith. Watters asserted, "Let me know if you see any Muslim backlash, I haven't seen a lot of it," with Guilfoyle adding, "I mean, who's vilifying any of the Muslims. Who's doing that?" The next day, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed, “Muslim hate crimes [are] not as big an issue as the White House would make you to believe,” and The O’Reilly Factor host Bill O’Reilly asserted, “there really isn't any evidence that Muslims are being mistreated in the USA.”
Of course, none of these Fox figures are Muslim, and neither of these segments featured Muslim guests. Their coverage is indicative of a larger problem: When cable news shows fail to invite Muslims to speak about their concerns, misinformed attacks are left unchecked and unchallenged and are repeated until viewers simply accept them as fact.
The Pulse Nightclub Shooting
The day after 49 people were killed at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, despite major print and online news stories about the outpouring of Muslim support for the shooting victims, positive portrayals of Muslims on cable news shows were almost non-existent. A Media Matters study of what voices were heard on cable news the day after the Orlando shooting found only 5 percent of guests on Fox News and MSNBC were Muslim, as well as only 7 percent of guests on CNN. What’s more, the three Muslim guests featured on Fox News did not adequately represent the Muslim American population; Maajid Nawaz is identified by Fox as a “former Islamic extremist,” Zuhdi Jasser has been described by the Council On American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as “the de facto Muslim for anti-Muslim political leaders,” and Qanta Ahmed has warned that “it’s time for the United States, western democracies, Britain, France, to admit that we are under siege by an ideology called Islamism.”
Three days later, Fox’s Megyn Kelly invited anti-Muslim hate group leader Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT! For America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” onto her show to discuss the shooting. Fox’s post-Orlando coverage followed a familiar pattern of stereotyping, fear-mongering, and misplaced blame. Other Fox guests and contributors exploited the attack in order to call for mosque surveillance and a new version of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Fox isn’t the only network that needs to improve inclusion of Muslim voices in important dialogues. On MSNBC, Maajid Nawaz, who was identified as a “former Islamist revolutionary member,” accounted for two out of four Muslim guest appearances. (He was also the same guest featured on Fox.) CNN featured the most diverse and numerous array of Muslim guests, but still only comprised 7 percent of guests on CNN that day.
Trump’s Attacks On A Gold Star Family
Another recent example of a major news story that impacted the Muslim community but didn’t ask them how was Trump’s attacks on a Muslim Gold Star family. On July 31, Gold Star mother Ghazala Khan penned an op-ed for The Washington Post debunking Trump’s July 30 claim that “maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say” about her son Humayun, an Army captain who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq. Trump’s attack, which played on the stereotype that Muslim women are expected to be subservient to their husbands, garnered sustained national attention, but on the morning shows of two major cable news networks, MSNBC and Fox, Muslim guests were barely featured. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, of 13 guests to discuss Trump’s attacks on the Khan family, only two were Muslim, the Khans themselves. On Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends, which covered the story significantly less, only one of three guests invited to discuss the Khan story was Muslim, and the one Muslim guest was Jasser. CNN’s coverage of the attacks on the Khan family was markedly more representative of Muslims. Out of 17 guests invited onto its morning show New Day, eight (including Khizr and Ghazala Khan) were Muslim. While this is a major improvement over MSNBC’s and Fox’s coverage of the story, only one guest other than Ghazala Khan was a female Muslim, despite the sexist nature of Trump’s anti-Muslim attack.
Post-Election Media Environment
Politicians engaging in anti-Islam rhetoric picked up in 2015, but no presidential candidate weaponized that brand of hate to the degree Donald Trump has. Throughout the course of his campaign, Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, said he would implement a registry and tracking system of American Muslims, and claimed that “Islam hates us.” Despite the unusual level of anti-Muslim sentiment coming from the president-elect, in the month following Trump’s election only 21 percent of evening cable news segments on issues affecting Muslims or, more specifically, segments on his anti-Muslim policy proposals and cabinet picks featured Muslim guests. Muslims are understandably outraged about Trump’s cabinet picks, and while discussion of those picks has dominated cable news shows during the transition, we aren’t hearing from Muslims on the primetime news shows.
Why This Matters
Media representation of Muslims has measurable effects on Americans’ views of Muslims and Islam. A December 2015 University of Michigan experimental study on exposure to Muslims in media found that “exposing participants to negative Muslim media footage, relative to neutral or no-video footage, increased perceptions of Muslims as aggressive, increased support for harsh civil restrictions of American Muslims, and increased support for military action in Muslim countries.” Fortunately, the opposite is also true -- media representations of Muslims in a positive context can produce the opposite effect. Moreover, the majority of Americans that personally know Muslims hold favorable views of them, a finding that holds across the political spectrum. But only 38 percent of Americans say that they know someone who is Muslim. Taken together, these findings make the case for increased representation of Muslims in news media -- since most Americans have limited interactions with Muslims, it’s incumbent that media help to get their perspectives across authentically.
Unfortunately,TV news has done an abysmal job of this. A 2007-2013 study on Muslims in the media found that primetime TV news coverage of Muslims has gotten increasingly worse -- in 2013, over 80 percent of media portrayals of Muslims in U.S. broadcast news shows were negative. This kind of coverage has lasting impacts on attitudes about Muslims. Fifty-five percent of Americans hold either a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Islam, and over half of Americans believe that Muslim immigrants increase the risk of terror attacks in the United States.
Despite the false but persistent narrative of Muslims as violent aggressors, American Muslims face more discrimination than nearly every other demographic in the United States, and it dominates their day-to-day existence. A 2011 Pew study with Muslim American participants (the most recent to date) found that the six biggest problems facing Muslims in the United States were negative views of their community, discrimination, ignorance about their religion, cultural problems between Muslims and non-Muslims, negative media portrayals, and acceptance by society. Given this reality, it is even more important that American Muslims are invited into the national news media to inform non-Muslims and raise awareness about issues faced by members of the United States’ estimated 3.3 million Muslim population.
In the face of what has been called a “post-truth presidency,” being informed is more important than ever. That starts with representing the diverse demographics, perspectives, and opinions of Americans fairly and authentically. In 2016, TV news media viewers saw glimpses of media outlets’ understanding of the need to represent Muslims. Next year, these cable news producers need to constantly be asking themselves: Who does this story affect? What can we ask them? How can we learn from them? Asking Muslims, “What is life like in Trump’s America?” is a good place to start.
For coverage of the Khan family story, Media Matters used iQ media to review the August 1, 2016, editions of morning news shows on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News -- CNN’s New Day, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and Fox News’ Fox & Friends -- between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. for segments and panel discussions dedicated to the Khan story. We excluded network hosts and reporters in our count of show guests. For coverage of the Pulse nightclub shooting, segments featuring Muslim guests were reviewed in iQ media to determine their identity. For post-election cable news coverage of issues affecting American Muslims, Media Matters used Nexis to search for mentions of “Islam," “Muslim,” “Middle East,” and “registry” in show editions of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News from the hours of 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. aired between November 14 and December 14, 2016. Fox News’ The Five, a primarily panel-based show which rarely has guests, was excluded. Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect, which airs on MSNBC, was also excluded because transcripts are not available in Nexis.
Segments included are defined by either a panel discussion or an interview where the stated topic of the segment is Islam, Muslims in the United States, or policies and/or presidential cabinet appointments affecting Muslims. We identified a guest’s religion by one or more of the following details: the host’s spoken introduction, onscreen text or graphics produced by the network, self-identification, or consultation of publicly available online biographies.
2016 was a red letter year for xenophobia and misinformation. From smears about Muslims to hostility over LGBT rights, media have had to push back against a torrent of lies and distortion. Here are 12 times the media rebuffed right-wing lies and deceit.
The New York Times’ Amy Chozick argued that President-elect Donald Trump should be given credit for using Twitter as he continues to avoid the press, normalizing his tweets as “refreshing” and ignoring the fact that Trump’s tweets have dangerously breached international precedent, swung stock prices, and promoted neo-Nazis, among other embarrassments.
On the December 27 edition of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, Chozick joined a panel with Azi Paybarah of Politico and Caitlin Huey-Burns of Real Clear Politics to discuss Trump’s recent Twitter use. Chozick conceded that a president-elect should explain his policy positions in “more than 140 characters,” but still argued Trump deserves “a little bit of credit” for using Twitter to speak to his supporters because, according to her, President Barack Obama struggled to speak to his supporters early in his presidency.
Chozick went on to compare Trump’s reckless and amateurish approach to presidential communications with Obama’s, who she criticized as being “more thoughtful and careful about everything,” seeming to consider Obama's approach a negative characteristic in a president. As for Trump, she described his Twitter use as “refreshing.”
But Trump’s temperamental outbursts in 140 characters or less are far from praiseworthy by any reasonable standard and should not be a form of presidential communication or policy-making indulged -- or normalized -- by the press as Chozick suggested.
As Greg Sargent explained in The Washington Post, arms control experts noted that Trump could exacerbate nuclear tensions in an international crisis if his tweets are interpreted incorrectly, such as when he recently tweeted that he wanted to “greatly strengthen and expand” the United States’ “nuclear capability.” Trump has already caused a serious strain in the U.S. relationship with one major nuclear power -- China -- after he bizarrely tweeted that he took an unprecedented call from the Taiwanese President (followed by several tweets attacking China).
Trump has also used Twitter to bully American companies and citizens into submitting to his poorly reasoned demands and embracing his falsehoods. Trump sent the stocks of Lockheed Martin and Boeing into a freefall at various times earlier this month when he tweeted that he was going to cancel Boeing’s contract for the new Air Force One over cost and, later, Lockheed Martin’s over the cost of the F-35 fighter jet. In addition, after Trump falsely claimed he was saving 1,100 jobs at a Carrier factory in Indiana, he used his account to attack Chuck Jones, a union boss at the Carrier plant who pointed out that many people were still losing their jobs, prompting many Trump supporters to send death threats to Jones and his family.
Trump has also outrageously used Twitter to mainstream dangerous hate and bigotry by consistently retweeting white nationalist and “alt-right” Twitter accounts. During his campaign, Trump retweeted several neo-Nazi and white nationalist sympathizing twitter accounts, including one with the handle @WhiteGenocideTM, which according to ThinkProgress, “tweets obsessively about white women allegedly being raped by various minority groups.”
Chozick’s defense of Trump is another example of how media figures are normalizing Trump’s hostility toward and complete disregard for the press. Time and again since the election, Trump has broken serious norms, with members of the press enabling his behavior by sanitizing his ties to extremists, echoing his lies, and whitewashing his comments.
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