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  • The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

    Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

    As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” -- or, as others have noted, outrageous insults -- within hours of being lauded as “presidential.” 

    In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

    In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech -- devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter -- that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

    Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitali wrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

    CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

    “It's kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we're not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We're not talking about something controversial. We're talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

    GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

    The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

    Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

    But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

    Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

    The "pivot" narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko. 

  • How The Media Helped Donald Trump Boost His Candidacy

    Harvard Professor Gives Insight Into New Shorenstein Report About How The Media Helped Trump And Hurt Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The author of a new Harvard study on the media’s coverage of the presidential primary says the press clearly helped Donald Trump on his path to becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.

    This week, Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy released a detailed report on the media’s coverage of the presidential race in 2015, the year leading up to the first primaries. The study found that “Trump is arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee. Although he subsequently tapped a political nerve, journalists fueled his launch."

    The study’s author, Harvard professor Thomas E. Patterson, told Media Matters in an interview that the massive amount of Trump coverage -- as well as its largely positive tone -- predated Trump’s rise in the polls and “helped position him to make a stronger run.”

    “In the past, to get a lot of coverage pre-Iowa you had to be pretty high in the polls, and they started to give him heavy coverage when he was way down there, in the single digits,” Patterson said in an interview. “It is virtually impossible when you go back through all the races before 2016 when you were in a multi-candidate field and you were down where he was you are almost an afterthought to journalists.”

    The study looked at coverage of the candidates prior to the caucus and primary votes by Fox News, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

    Equating the Trump coverage to advertising dollars, Patterson’s report found that Trump received about $55 million worth of positive and neutral coverage in the eight outlets studied, well ahead of the second place candidate, Jeb Bush, at $36 million.

    “It’s gold, it works in every way in [his] favor,” Patterson said. “As you start to go up in the polls, there is a circular pattern, you can raise money and it becomes easier to pull voters into your column. What was abnormal was this extraordinary amount of attention Trump got early on even though he did not appear on paper to be a credible candidate. He was far down in the polls, but he made statements that made for great stories.”

    The study found that all eight of the news outlets studied gave Trump predominantly positive or neutral coverage, from The New York Times, where 63% of stories about Trump were positive or neutral, to USA Today, which led the way with 74%.

    By the same token, Clinton received largely negative coverage across the eight news outlets during 2015. The report argues of this disparity, "Whereas media coverage helped build up Trump, it helped tear down Clinton. Trump’s positive coverage was the equivalent of millions of dollars in ad-buys in his favor, whereas Clinton’s negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end." 

    Patterson pointed to reporting on Clinton's use of a private email account while secretary of state and Republicans' ongoing focus on the 2012 Benghazi attacks as two of the most negatives stories.

    “In her case, the emails and the questions about the emails, how big an issue is this actually, that was a big part of her coverage,” Patterson said. “Benghazi was a bigger part of the news early on and then she had that day-long session with Congress that a lot of people thought she did quite well with. Of all the candidates of recent decades who have been front-runners, she has had the strongest headwinds of negative coverage.”

    But Patterson said the press may have over-covered the email issue and failed to put it in proper context.

    “How big an issue is the email controversy in the context of the candidate’s preparedness and ability to be president of the states?” he asked. “I think you would get some who say it is a molehill into a mountain. My own sense is that as a standalone issue the emails are pretty small potatoes in the realm of presidential preparedness. It has been a common practice in Congress and among cabinet officers to combine them one way or another. She is not an outlier on this and you could ask why the press has not brought that part of the story into it.”

    Patterson added that even apart from those controversies, Clinton’s “substantive issue coverage was more negative than the other candidates.”

    Despite the helping hand the media gave Trump during the primaries, Patterson notes that “in the past few weeks, Trump has gotten the kind of press scrutiny that if it had come earlier it would have been a drag of some kind on his candidacy, perhaps enough to make it hard for him to go into the convention with a majority.”

  • NBC News Highlights The Orlando Attack’s Impact on The Latino Community

    NBC News: “Most Of The Victims Were Latino.”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    NBC News elevated the Orlando massacre’s disproportionate impact on the Latino community in a June 13 report. As noted by NBC News, it was Latin Night at the club when the attack occurred, and “most of the victims were Latino.”  

    On June 12, a gunman wielding an assault weapon killed 49 people and injured 53 others at a Orlando, FL, gay nightclub. In NBC News' report highlighting the impact the attack had on the Latino community, the network elevated Hispanic voices, interviewing LGBT Latinos, survivors of the attacks, and friends and family members of the victims, providing necessary visibility to a community that goes often underrepresented in the media.

    NBC News provided a platform for Latinos to explain why the gay club “was a safe space” for LGBT Hispanics -- “because it was Latin Night, where you could finally hold someone's hand, or to kiss them while feeling like the majority and unoppressed."

    It was Latin Night at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. And as news unfolded of the nation's worst mass shooting, it quickly became evident that most of the victims were Latino.

    "De verdad que no tengo palabras - truly I have no words," said Carlos Batán to Telemundo reporter Rogelio Mora Tagle. Batan choked up as he remembered how his best friend, whom he didn't name out of respect until more news had come out, was the first person he had met in Orlando when he moved from Puerto Rico four years ago. Through tears, Batán said his friend had gone to Pulse for a night of dancing, only to fall victim to the violent shooting. "I can't believe the days in which we're living, there is no respect for human life."

    Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is running for the Florida state Legislature and is the government affairs manager for Equality Florida, said as soon as he learned of the shootings Sunday morning he reached out to friends to make sure they were safe because he knew people he knows would be there. Smith, who would be the first openly gay Latino in the Florida legislature and is of Peruvian descent, said he was getting calls from friends and family who were checking on him.

    [...]

    While violence against the LGBTQ community is something he has dealt with through Equality Florida, the civil rights group for which he works, the tragedy has made discrimination and gun violence more real, he said.

    "It's more real in every way, not only is Orlando our home, but this is our people. I see the Latino families in person here on the ground and on TV embracing each other, holding each other tight and I see my own family," Smith said.

    [...]

    For many of the area's Latinos, the best thing to do was to try to help.

    Franco Camborda, a 19-year-old student at the University of Southern Florida, said people were waiting in blood donation lines for as many as eight hours. Because the blood donation centers were so busy, Camborda said he and his friends left their phone numbers and will be ready to donate as soon as they get a call.

    "When I heard it was Latinos, it hit me hard because we are already a minority —Pulse was a safe space, especially because it was Latin Night, where you could finally hold someone's hand, or to kiss them while feeling like the majority and unoppressed."

  • Right-Wing Media Suggest Obama’s Clinton Endorsement Will Interfere With FBI Email Inquiry

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media are claiming that President Obama’s endorsement of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is “a terrible conflict of interest," suggesting the FBI could otherwise indict Clinton but will not do so because of the endorsement. Mainstream media and legal experts have reported for months that the “chatter” that Clinton will be indicted “is just plain ridiculous,” noting that “there doesn’t seem to be a legitimate basis for any sort of criminal charge against” Clinton.

  • US Officials Report No Evidence Hillary Clinton Broke The Law, Will Right-Wing Media Listen?

    Conservative Media Conspiracy Theories Doused By The Facts

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    U.S. officials say they have not yet found evidence that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton willfully broke the law with use of her private email or that her server was hacked, according to two new reports, undercutting the conservative witch-hunt for a bombshell in the Democratic presidential front-runner’s email setup.

    Prosecutors and FBI officials “have so far found scant evidence that [Hillary Clinton] intended to break classification rules,” according to a May 5 Washington Post report. The article noted that “prosecutors are wrestling with the question of whether Clinton intended to violate the rules, and so far, the evidence seemed to indicate she did not”:

    Prosecutors and FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server have so far found scant evidence that the leading Democratic presidential candidate intended to break classification rules, though they are still probing the case aggressively with an eye on interviewing Clinton herself, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter

    [...]

    The involvement of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is not indicative that charges are imminent or even likely. One official said prosecutors are wrestling with the question of whether Clinton intended to violate the rules, and so far, the evidence seemed to indicate she did not.

    CNN underscored the findings in the Washington Post article, reporting that “The investigation is still ongoing, but so far investigators haven't found evidence to prove that Clinton willfully violated the law.” The reports join the growing chorus of legal experts and government officials who have undermined claims made by right-wing media figures, who have repeatedly scandalized Clinton’s use of a private email server by arguing that she broke the law using her server for State Department emails.

    Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge, who has a history of hyping evidence-free claims, most recently reported on May 4 that “the infamous Romanian hacker known as ‘Guccifer’ … easily – and repeatedly – breached former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal email server,” a claim parroted by various right-wing media figures.

    But U.S. officials “dismissed claims [by “Guccifer”] that he was able to breach Clinton’s personal email server,” according to the Post, noting, “investigators have found no evidence to support the assertion.” NBC News also reported that the hacker “could provide no documentation to back up his claims,” and Politico reported that an “internal FBI review of Clinton’s email records did not indicate traces of hacking.”

    Fox also alleged that the Obama administration is “slow-rolling” the Select Committee on Benghazi Committee’s investigation into Clinton’s email use, scandalizing the fact that a “special unit to review Benghazi documents” was convened later than expected.

    The Department of Defense recently criticized the committee, slamming it for “straining the department's resources” chasing “documents and interviews” often based on “speculative or hypothetical” queries, according to Politico. A letter sent by Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Hedger derided the Republican-led committee’s “multiple and changing requests,” some of which have been “unfair … unproductive … [and] unnecessary,” and implored the committee to “remain focused on obtaining facts rather than encouraging speculation.”

    Since Clinton’s use of private email was revealed, conservative media figures have made multiple baseless allegations, only to be burned by facts. The new revelations that investigators have not yet found evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton only add to the growing list of debunked myths spuriously pushed by right-wing media.  

  • Right-Wing Media Run With Imprisoned Hacker’s Evidence-Free Claim That He Breached Clinton’s Server

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media are credulously reporting claims from the extradited Romanian hacker known as “Guccifer,” who is currently in prison in Virginia, that he “breached” Hillary Clinton’s email server. The hacker has provided no documentation to prove his claims, and the FBI’s security review of Clinton’s emails has reportedly found no evidence of hacking.

  • Conservatives Are Already Preparing To Cry "Cover-Up" If Hillary Clinton Isn't Indicted

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Right-wing media figures have been laying the foundation to allege a "scandal" and "cover-up" if the FBI's investigation into Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton's email server does not result in Clinton's indictment, thus setting her up for a lose-lose situation. Yet multiple law experts have explained that an indictment is highly unlikely.

  • A Timeline Of The Anonymously Sourced FBI Agent Numbers That Distorted The Clinton Email Server Investigation

    The Numbers Have Changed From 150 To 12

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Since January, numerous outlets, including Fox News and The Washington Post, have cited anonymous or discredited sources to claim that up to 150 FBI agents were investigating Hillary Clinton's private email server. But the number of agents has been a moving target, with the Post later correcting itself to say it was "less than 50" and NBC saying March 30 that the number is closer to 12. NBC's source -- also anonymous -- called the earlier figures "ridiculous" and said, "You need an act of terrorism to get 50 agents working on something."

  • NBCNews.com Highlights The Importance Of Newsroom Diversity In Dispelling Stereotypes About Youth Of Color

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A report by NBCNews.com highlighted the importance of including more people of color in newsrooms in order to dispel harmful racial and ethnic stereotypes perpetuated in news coverage.

    The March 11 report highlighted recommendations offered by a panel of experts regarding the ways in which media use criminalizing narratives to depict youth of color and how they can improve accuracy in their coverage. The Advancement Project's Judith Brown suggested that "the way to alleviate this is to have more people of color in top positions in the nation's newsrooms," which are overwhelmingly white.

    Media Matters' Cristina Lopez also recommended improving the representation of racial and ethnic groups on Sunday political talk shows, as "that's where political actors set the agenda for political discussion on all the issues." A Media Matters study of guest appearances on five Sunday political talk shows showed that throughout 2015 guests were disproportionately white, conservative, and male.

    As reported by NBCNews.com:

    According to Judith Brown, the co-director of the Advancement Project, the way to help alleviate this is to have more people of color in top positions in the nation's newsrooms.

    "We've created this dialogue and narrative in this country about people of color in which they should be treated as less than human," Brown said.

    [...]

    "There is a history of how we talk about people of color," she said. "They are spoken of as disrespectful, disobedient, mouthy, as gangbangers, illegals, thugs, violent, disorderly; leading to the ultimate conclusion that they brought this on themselves. We criminalize and blame the victim."

    Mervyn Marcano is a political communications consultant and is also Afro-Latino. There is already a double standard standard surrounding the coverage of African American and Latino youth, Marcano said, and they "already have a challenge when it comes to getting accurate and humane coverage of their issues."

    Marcano and others pointed out several instances of what they characterized as the media's criminalizing coverage of youth of color, including Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly's much-publicized comments calling a 14-year-old forcibly removed from a pool party by police as "no saint." In another example, a Florida television station reported on the shooting death of a young Latino using an old mug shot even though other photos were available.

    The progressive media watchdog group Media Matters also conducted a study of New York City news outlets - the country's top media market - and found that the news gave disproportionate coverage to crime stories involving African Americans.

    Cristina López, who works at Media Matters, said a good place to start changing these stereotypes would be by putting more people of color on TV, especially on the Sunday morning talk shows. Having a diverse newsroom would help alleviate these instances of inaccurate coverage, she said.

    "You see a news story or a certain narrative go down the pipeline and eventually it reaches the Sunday shows, which are the places where news gets spun," she said. "That's where political actors set the agenda for political discussion on all the issues."

    But it cannot end there, López said. Diversity is important down the line, in production rooms, and who gets to comment."

    [...]

    "We're becoming more diverse and failing to include an accurate portrayal of these communities constitutes misinformation," said López. "Words matter, and if we let slurs go unchecked we will be normalizing the use of disparaging words.

    "Disparaging words, such as those used to describe immigrants, dehumanizes an individual and blames them for diseases, for terrorism and oftentimes it leads to harsher policy proposals," she added. Media observers such as López recommend steering away from words such as "illegal alien," "resident alien," and even "juvenile" because they consider them to be dehumanizing and perpetuate stereotypes.

  • Media Critics: Networks Should Hang Up On Trump Phone Interviews

    "Trump Has Become His Own Executive Producer"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    News outlets that allow Donald Trump to eschew on-camera interviews in favor of phone call-ins are being criticized by television news veterans and media critics who say the format gives Trump an upper hand and can diminish the interview.

    Networks have faced criticism over letting Trump call in to shows for months. In September, Huffington Post senior media reporter Michael Calderone explained that thanks to the phone format, Trump "can better control the conversation when he's not facing his interviewer on camera. It's easier for him to speak over the host to change the subject, or to refer to notes."

    The issue returned to the spotlight this week after Trump had been scheduled to do a series of interviews on major morning news shows via satellite, but switched to phone call-ins after he reportedly "didn't like the look of the live shot."

    Several networks allowed Trump to call in, but CBS This Morning declined, citing the show's policy against phone interviews.

    Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace has also barred Trump from calling in to his program, but that has not stopped other Fox shows from allowing Trump to stay off camera and on the phone. According to a count by BuzzFeed, television news outlets have interviewed Trump by phone "an unprecedented 69 times in the last 69 days."

    This week, Media Matters launched a petition calling on news networks to stop conducting phone interviews with Trump.

    Observers contend that a call-in interview lacks the balance of a face-to-face exchange because the audience and the interviewer are not allowed to see Trump's expressions and reactions. They say it is also more difficult to follow-up and put the subject on the spot to answer questions more directly.   

    "It's definitely better because you can control it, you can ask follow-up questions," David Zurawik, media critic with The Baltimore Suntold Media Matters. "On a phone it really shifts control away from the interviewer, I don't think anyone can dispute that. I was really glad CBS said no, but I think the cable channels are addicted to the ratings."

    David Folkenflik, media reporter for National Public Radio, agreed.

    "It is a signal of the extent to which the television cable networks contort themselves to accommodate Trump because he is such an unpredictable and explosive figure," he said, adding, "The first order is you want to get somebody in person, so the interviewer and person are together. The anchors and the producers control the setting. You want to do it in person, or on camera remote. When things get really dicey is when you can't do that. Television is a visual media, you want to see their facial expressions, it is worth having that. Trump is so expressive." 

    Folkenflik and others said many outlets are willing to have Trump on by phone because he gets ratings, but say that is not an excuse.

    "They know when Trump comes on ratings spike up. I don't think programmers are too desperate to put John Kasich on a cell phone for an interview," he said. "They let his rallies and other events be on the air for long stretches of time with minimal interruptions because they just don't know what the guy is going to say. There are other candidates -- there are other candidates in the other party and they are not getting anything like that."

    Marvin Kalb, a long-time former NBC News Washington correspondent and one-time Meet the Press host, praised CBS for declining to let Trump call in and said others should do the same.

    "Hooray for CBS," Kalb said. "The way in which this has emerged, Trump has become his own executive producer in American television. The networks appear obediently to go along with his call."

    "It is television and you want to see things," he added. "In his case, he is asking for something that is very special, he is changing the rules of the game, you want to ask yourself why? From the network point of view, it ought to be news value."

    In an interview with Media Matters last month about the media's general failure to properly scrutinize Trump, former New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt called foul on the phone interviews, saying, "Broadcasting and cable maybe aren't being as tough as they should be. I have questioned having him on by telephone, it's deferring to him in a way, letting him set ground rules that they don't for others. You do not see his demeanor and it is not the same as having him sit across from an interrogator."

    Frank Sesno, a former CNN White House correspondent and current director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said this week that the limited access is a negative.  

    "When Trump is on the phone he can talk over the interviewer, he can do it in his pajamas," Sesno said. "He can get so much free airtime that it starts to challenge us as journalists as to what our role is in providing free media for the candidate."