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Fox figures are supporting fellow Fox host and debate moderator Chris Wallace and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s argument that moderators should not fact-check candidates during the presidential debates, suggesting that “it’s not the job” of moderators and that it would be “crazy” to think otherwise. Yet fact-checking services have found that 70 percent of Trump’s claims are “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire” lies.
CNN’s Jake Tapper was the only Sunday show host on September 25 to discuss a report that American intelligence officials are probing Russian government ties to a man Trump has identified as a foreign policy adviser, Carter Page. This latest revelation is yet another missed opportunity by the Sunday political talk shows to feature investigative stories about Trump and his campaign over the past month.
On September 23, Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reported that “U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials.” Among the problematic contacts Page has reportedly had with aides to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is Igor Diveykin, who “is believed by U.S. officials to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election.” The article also quoted a Trump spokesperson calling Page an “‘informal foreign adviser’” to Trump.
In an interview with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway on CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper cited the Yahoo! News article and questioned Conway if the campaign had talked to Page about his meetings with Russian officials. Conway denied that Page was part of the Trump campaign at this time and said that he was not authorized to talk to Russia on the campaign’s behalf.
The other Sunday hosts -- NBC’s Chuck Todd, CBS’ John Dickerson, Fox’s Chris Wallace, and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos -- who interviewed Trump adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, and Conway, respectively -- all failed to question their Trump surrogate guests about the report. The only other mentions of the report on the Sunday shows were from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s surrogates, with Clinton running mate Tim Kaine alluding to the “news of this past week [that] shows us a whole series of very serious questions about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia” on CBS’ Face the Nation, and Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon mentioning Page on CNN’s Reliable Sources.
The near blackout of this story from the Sunday shows is turning into a familiar pattern regarding investigative reports on Trump. Over the past month, the Sunday political talk shows have repeatedly failed to feature new reporting that reflects poorly on Trump. On September 4, just days after The Washington Post broke the story that Trump’s foundation illegally gave a political donation in 2013 and that Trump paid the IRS a penalty for it, only CBS’ Dickerson brought it up; on other shows, guests were forced to mention it. The next week, as they were all covering the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, every Sunday show completely ignored the New York Daily News’ investigation that revealed Trump unethically accepted $150,000 in government aid after the attacks and that Trump bragged that one of his buildings was now the largest in the area just hours after the 9/11 attacks. And just last week, the Sunday shows again mostly omitted new reporting on Trump, specifically the news that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was investigating Trump’s charitable foundation over concerns of impropriety and Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek report that detailed the “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” that would be present in the foreign policy of a President Trump due to his deep business ties to foreign countries and businesspeople.
The report on Page also follows Trump’s repeated praise of Putin, who he has called “highly respected within his own country and beyond,” later adding that if Putin “says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” Journalists have slammed Trump for his remarks, noting the country has targeted and murdered journalists.
The 2016 presidential debates will kick off on September 26, giving voters one of their last chances to judge the candidates on the substance and breadth of their policy proposals. With over 100 million people expected to watch, the stakes could not be higher. Voters are mere months away from selecting the person who will become the president of the United States and whose actions will have an immense impact on their everyday lives. Informing this decision is a responsibility that media cannot afford to take lightly.
As the first presidential debate approaches, media figures across the political spectrum are actively lowering the bar for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, both by setting lower standards themselves and by pushing the lower-standard narrative. Yet at the same time, many media figures are acknowledging that the press is employing a double standard in its treatment of Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Sunday morning political news programs neglected two major news stories that raise ethical questions about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s family charity and his business interests, including reports that Trump’s charitable foundation is under investigation by the New York Attorney General and the conflicts of interest the Trump Organization would raise in a Trump presidency.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a September 13 CNN interview that his office is investigating Trump’s charitable foundation over concerns that it “engaged in some impropriety” as related to New York charity laws. The investigation launched amid reports from The Washington Post that Trump spent money from his charity on items meant to benefit himself, such as a $20,000 oil painting of himself and a $12,000 autographed football helmet, and also recycled others’ contributions “to make them appear to have come from him” although he “hasn’t given to the foundation since 2008.”
In Newsweek’s September 23 cover story, Kurt Eichenwald reported that Trump’s business interests “will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” if Trump wins the presidency and does not sever all connections to the Trump Organization. The Trump Organization, Eichenwald reported, has been “largely ignored” by media, yet would cause “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” in nearly all foreign policy decisions a president Trump would make. Eichenwald’s report explains that the Trump Organization’s enterprise includes “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals,” and “reveals a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled” which could conflict with major national security decisions and negotiations required by the presidential elect.
Yet none of the Sunday morning political news shows dedicated substantial coverage to either report on September 18.
NBC’s Meet The Press briefly alluded to reports that the Trump Organization could pose conflicts of interest without mentioning the Newsweek report directly. Host Chuck Todd asked Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway whether Trump would offer an “explanation of how he will wall off his business so that there are not even illusions or any sort of cloud that would hang over foreign policy decisions and his international business dealings.”
But ABC’s This Week, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday, and CBS’ Face the Nation all completely ignored the stories about Trump’s foundation and business empire, even though each featured interviews with Trump surrogates who could have been asked about them. Meet the Press did not reference Trump’s foundation.
Journalists have been criticized for the “double standard” in the ways they cover Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month, cable news programs devoted 13 times more coverage to Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis as The Washington Post’s reporting about the Trump Foundation. This week, both the Trump Foundation and Trump Organization stories were given short shrift by the broadcast news programs in favor of coverage of Donald Trump’s Dr. Oz stunt.
Media Matters conducted a SnapStream search for any coverage of both reports on Sunday morning political news shows including: ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face The Nation, NBC’s Meet The Press, Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union. The search was conducted using search terms “Newsweek,” “Eichenwald,” “Trump Organization,” “Fahrenthold,” “Trump Foundation,” “Trump Charity,” and “Charity.”
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Generally Strong Coverage Of Census Data Shows TV News Outlets Can Still Cover The Economy Well When They Try
The major broadcast evening news programs each provided great examples of how network news can still be a source of concise and informative coverage on the economy this week when they covered new data releases from the Census Bureau.
On September 13, the U.S. Census Bureau released annual updates to its ongoing reports on income and poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States. The reports revealed stunning positive news about the state of the American economy: a record-setting 5.2 percent increase in median household income from 2014 to 2015, median income at its highest point since before the Great Recession, a drop in the official poverty rate of 1.2 percentage points, more than 3.5 million Americans lifted out of poverty, a 1.3 percentage point drop in the uninsured rate, and roughly 4 million fewer uninsured Americans. In response to the data, Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) noted that 2015 marked just the second year since 1988 “that brought simultaneous progress on poverty, median income, and health insurance.”
Print and online coverage of the Census data was overwhelmingly positive, with CNNMoney writer Tami Luhby and Washington Post contributor Paul Waldman both noting that the data undermine a key (albeit, “false”) talking point frequently used by Republicans: that there has been wage stagnation, and President Obama is to blame.
Just as importantly, the positive coverage continued during the September 13 editions of major nightly broadcast news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, which collectively draw more than 20 million daily viewers. Only ABC failed to note all three of the key Census data findings -- the increase in median income, the drop in poverty, and the drop in the uninsured rate -- during its reporting.
As is often the case, PBS NewsHour offered the most in-depth and detailed discussion of the Census reports. Correspondent Lisa Desjardins spent just under three minutes detailing the data and discussing its possible political ramifications and effect on the upcoming election. The segment even included some cautionary notes, including reasons that some Americans have not seen a boost in take-home pay despite the surge in median earnings and some potential problems faced by customers on the private insurance market.
Next in terms of quality of coverage were CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, both of which discussed all of the key takeaways from the data. CBS anchor Scott Pelley said the Census reports were “great news” and stood as proof that “more Americans are cashing in on the recovery.” NBC anchor Lester Holt added that “middle class incomes had their fastest rate of growth ever recorded” and “incomes increased across all racial groups.”
ABC’s World News spent the least amount of time on the topic, mentioning the Census data as just part of a discussion about the stock market, but anchor David Muir still noted that the 5.2 percent median income increase was “the largest rise in nearly 50 years.”
The individual segments might not seem like cause for celebration, but, according to recent Media Matters analyses of broadcast news coverage, each segment should serve as an example of how these programs can adequately discuss the economy.
Overall coverage of the economy fell considerably from the first to second quarter of 2016, as the major networks focused more of their limited time on horse-race political coverage detached from the economic issues that actually drive voter behavior. Coverage of economic inequality and poverty also decreased from the first to second quarter of the year overall -- only ABC and CBS focused more attention on those crucial subjects from April through June than they had in the first three months of the year:
Unfortunately, throughout the first half of the year, major news outlets have been focusing less and less attention on the economy, creating a void that can easily be filled with misinformation. As broadcast and cable outlets retreated from covering the economy, misleading and biased stories emanating from Fox News and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accounted for a higher proportion of coverage.
Broadcast evening news shows face considerable challenges in trimming segments down to fit abbreviated commercial schedules, but their coverage on September 13 demonstrated that the flagship programs can still balance brevity and substance when they try.
Media Turned Away From Covering Damaging Reports About Trump’s Foundation And Business Entanglements
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump successfully deflected media’s attention away from damaging investigative reports about his foreign business practices and his charitable foundation by fashioning a publicity stunt out of an appearance on The Dr. Oz Show.
On September 14, broadcast morning shows, including NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning spent 14 minutes and 55 seconds on new developments surrounding possible illegal activity from the Trump Foundation. This reporting came the day after New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office is investigating the Trump Foundation “to make sure it’s complying with the laws governing charities in New York.” Schneiderman’s investigation comes amid a series of reports from The Washington Post that examined how the foundation “collects and spends money in a very unusual manner.” Reporter David Fahrenthold found that, unlike with most personal foundations, “The Trump Foundation’s money doesn’t actually come from Trump’s own pocket.” In a September 14 report, Fahrenthold wrote that Trump “may have violated IRS rules against ‘self-dealing,’ which prohibit nonprofit leaders from spending charity money on themselves” when he spent $20,000 from his charity to buy a portrait of himself in 2007.
The broadcast morning shows also devoted some time, albeit only 46 seconds, to a September 14 Newsweek report that detailed how Trump’s business entanglements have often intersected with unfriendly foreign governments. Reporter Kurt Eichenwald explained his piece on CNN, saying that “there has never been a president in the history of the United States who has had these kinds of conflicts of interest.” He added that Trump’s entanglements “often go directly against the interests of American national security.”
But news outlets virtually ignored the damaging reports once Trump appeared for a September 14 taping of The Dr. Oz Show in which the “scientifically dubious” Dr. Mehmet Oz examined the results of the Republican nominee’s latest physical. The broadcast nightly news programs, including ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC’s Nightly News, and CBS’ Evening News, spent 7 minutes and 11 seconds on Trump’s publicity stunt. It caused the programs to cast aside the investigative reports, spending only 2minutes and 15 seconds on the reports about the Trump Foundation and 43 seconds on Eichenwald’s look into Trump’s foreign business entanglements.
On September 15, the broadcast morning news programs all but forgot the reports, instead obsessing over Trump’s appearance with Dr. Oz, which garnered 12 minutes and 5 seconds of coverage between all three shows. Only Today continued to discuss the series of questions raised about the Trump Foundation, spending 2minutes and 48 seconds on the topic. However, that is less than half the time they spent on Trump’s Dr. Oz Show appearance, which accounted for 6 minutes and 30 seconds of airtime.
By brushing aside the damaging investigative reporting about Trump in order to cover his gimmick with Dr. Oz, the broadcast news shows played right into the candidate’s hands. As CNN media critic Brian Stelter pointed out, Trump’s appearance on Oz’s show “wasn’t actual transparency” about his health -- “it was the appearance, the semblance of transparency.” Stelter added that it “shows Trump’s style, his media savvy” and noted that “we should know this was for show, and it was very effective.”
Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of Trump from the September 14 and 15 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, and CBS This Morning as well as the September 14 editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC’s Nightly News, and CBS’ Evening News and coded segments relating to new details surrounding Trump’s foundation, the Newsweek report on Trump’s business entanglements, and his appearance on Dr. Oz.
CBS And NBC Devote Segments To The Breaking News Story
While broadcast news programs on NBC and CBS covered reports that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating whether Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s charitable foundation complied with laws governing charities in New York, ABC’s World News Tonight failed to report on the development.
On September 14, Schneiderman told CNN his office is investigating The Donald J. Trump Foundation over concerns that the charity may have “engaged in some impropriety” regarding New York state non-profit regulations.
Reports of the Attorney General’s investigation followed a series of reports by The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold that stated Trump’s charity appeared “to have repeatedly broken IRS rules,” contained little of Trump’s own money, and occasionally purchased things “that seemed to benefit only Trump.” Fahrenthold also reported that Trump’s charity had been “retooled” to “spend other people’s money” on things such as a $20,000 portrait of Trump and a $12,000 autographed football helmet, therefore allowing “a rich man to be philanthropic for free.”
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NBC Today host Savannah Guthrie commended Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for not attacking Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her recent pneumonia diagnosis, touting his so-called “restraint” as evidence of “a new Donald Trump.” Minutes later, the candidate engaged in vintage Trump behavior on NBC’s sister network CNBC, hurling racial slurs and outlandish conspiracy theories and once again flouting the media’s tendency to declare a Trump pivot.
Trump and his surrogates plan “to refrain from commenting” on Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis, as Bloomberg reported. For Guthrie, “this is a new Donald Trump.”
NICOLLE WALLACE: Let me just say what I think the glaring, banner-worthy breaking news is this morning. Donald Trump hasn't tweeted about [Hillary Clinton's pneumonia diagnoses]. Donald Trump hasn't raged against her. Donald Trump hasn't called her a name. We are seeing, to me, the most dramatic 24-hour transformation of her opponent since he began running for president. I can't wait to see what his first comments are and if he's able to show restraint. That will mark, really to me, the most dramatic development in this campaign so far.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE (CO-HOST): Well, Nicolle, ask and ye shall receive. I've been told he did at an appearance this morning on another network and said, "I hope she gets well soon," and looks forward to seeing her at the debate. So Mark, this is a new Donald Trump.
Right after Guthrie lapsed into the media’s persistent tendency of proclaiming a Trump “pivot,” the presidential candidate appeared on CNBC and lobbed his typical racial insults, speculated about corruption at the Federal Reserve, and suggested the presidential debates will be rigged, defying any semblance of a “new Donald Trump.” Here are a few examples of the vintage Donald Trump who appeared on CNBC just after NBC declared him “new”:
He Called Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”
BECKY QUICK (CO-HOST): Just last week Senator Elizabeth Warren was working with a group called Fed Up where they’re trying to put constraints on the Fed and get their arms around it a little more. I wonder in a Trump administration would you be trying to put more constraints on the Fed as well?
DONALD TRUMP: What I would want to do is have a policy -- I wouldn't go by what Pocahontas wants you to do, because her agenda is obvious. I mean, she's a disaster. She’s also one of the least effective senators in the United States Senate. Nobody really understands that, but she's done nothing.
He Claimed Fed Chair Janet Yellen Is Manipulating Interest Rates “Because She’s Obviously Political”
Trump baselessly accused Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen of keeping interest rates “at zero because she’s obviously political and she’s doing what [President] Obama wants her to do,” even though the Federal Reserve operates independently of the White House.
JOE KERNEN (CO-HOST): Did you come to the conclusion that maybe [interest rates] can't stay at zero forever, and what do you think [the Federal Reserve] should do in September?
DONALD TRUMP: Well it's staying at zero because she's obviously political and she’s doing what [President] Obama wants her to do and I know that's not supposed to be the way it is. But that's why it's low, because as soon as they go up your stock market’s going to go way down most likely, or possibly. And don't forget, I called Brexit. I did a lot of calling and what they are doing is, I believe it's a false market. Because money is essentially free.
I think they are keeping them down and they will keep them down even longer and any increase at all will be a very, very small increase, Joe, because, you know, they want to keep the market up so that Obama goes out and let the new guy, whoever that new-- let's call it the new guy, you know, OK, because I like the sound of that much better. But that the new person becomes president, let him raise interest rates or her raise interest rates and watch what happens to the stock market when that happens, OK, because you have no choice. The people that were hurt the worst are people that saved their money all their lives and thought they were going to live off their interests and those people are getting just absolutely creamed. In other words, the ones that did it right, they saved their money, they cut down on their mortgages, they did all of the things they did everything exactly right, and now they are getting practically zero interest on the money that they worked so hard for over 40 years. I mean, those people have really been -- you can almost say discriminated against. Now the interest rates are kept down by President Obama. I have no doubt that that's the reason that they are being kept down.
He Claimed Clinton Is “Gaming The System” And Rigging The Presidential Debates
Trump speculated that Clinton and her allies are “gaming the system” to try to rig the presidential debates. He said they’re accusing Matt Lauer of being “nice” to Trump during a forum he hosted between the two candidates, so that “the new person is going to try and be really hard on Trump just to show the establishment what he can do.” Trump floated the idea that there should be “no moderator” for the debates, and instead it should be “just Hillary and I sitting there talking.” Trump has baselessly asserted several times that various aspects of the election are or will be rigged.
JOE KERNEN: I want to talk about the debates and how you are prepping for those, whether you like the moderators that are selected.
DONALD TRUMP: As far as the debates are concerned, the system is being gamed because everybody said that I won the so-called forum that your group put on, but they all said I won and that Matt Lauer was easy on me. Well he wasn't. I thought he was very professional, I have to be honest. I think he has been treated very unfairly. But they all said that I won. And what they’re doing is they’re gaming the system, so that when I go into the debate I’m going to get -- be treated very, very unfairly by the moderators.
They are saying about how Matt Lauer was nice to Trump. He wasn’t nice to me. He was tough on me. He gave me tough. I answered them better than she did. The fact is that they are gaming the system, and I think maybe we should have no moderator. Let Hillary and I sit there and just debate. Because I think the system is being rigged so it's going to be a very unfair debate. And I can see it happening right now because everybody was saying that he was soft on Trump. Well now the new person is going to try and be really hard on Trump just to show the establishment what he can do. So I think it's very unfair what they are doing. So I think we should have a debate with no moderator, just Hillary and I sitting there talking.