Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump retreated to Fox News’ Fox & Friends for a friendly interview following widespread criticism of his September 26 presidential debate performance which was deemed a loss for Trump, while his campaign surrogates took real interviews on other cable and broadcast news networks.
Journalists across the political spectrum lambasted Trump’s September 26 presidential debate performance, criticizing the false statements he made -- and that debate moderator Lester Holt repeatedly challenged -- on numerous issues including the Iraq War, birtherism, and his tax returns. Reporters noted that Trump spent much of the debate on the defensive regarding those issues and that he repeatedly interrupted both Holt and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Other media figures slammed Trump for bragging that he got President Obama to release his long-form birth certificate and for his false claim that Clinton’s 2008 campaign started the racist birther conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace. Voters and commentators proclaimed that Trump had lost the debate to Clinton, with some calling the performance “an unmitigated disaster” and a “terrible night” for Trump.
The following day, Trump retreated to Fox News to discuss the debate with the hosts of Fox & Friends. The show has a history of buddying up with Trump, giving him a platform to push false claims including that President Obama was not born in the United States, and Trump has lauded the show’s hosts in return. The show’s September 27 interview with Trump continued its softball history with the candidate. Rather than challenging Trump on any of his false statements, the hosts asked questions such as, “So how do you think it went last night?” and, “Do you feel that Lester Holt asked Hillary Clinton an equal number of hostile questions?” The hosts joined Trump in criticizing Holt, with co-host Steve Doocy claiming he “leaned a little over into the left lane” in contrast to Matt Lauer’s “fair and balanced” performance at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum (for which Lauer has been widely criticized). Co-host Ainsley Earhardt even praised Trump for his response to Clinton’s accurate claim that the federal government had sued him for housing discrimination, saying, “I did like how you responded to that, though, because when they throw those things at you, and you’re -- being in the audience, I didn't know about that. And then when you explain it, then you’re like, ‘Oh, OK, well that makes sense.’” The hosts also gave Trump space to attack, without any pushback, a former Miss Universe winner and to insult her weight.
In contrast with Trump’s cocoon on Fox’s morning show, Trump surrogates took harder interviews at other networks. Hosts on NBC’s Today and CBS This Morning challenged Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), about why Trump took credit for spurring President Obama to release his birth certificate, about whether Trump “lie[d]” when he falsely claimed he never said climate change was a hoax, and why Trump bragged about possibly not paying taxes. On CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the hosts pressed Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway over whether Trump’s birther answer was appropriate and whether he would apologize for his birther campaign. They also asked about Trump’s climate change stance and the quality of Trump’s debate performance overall.
Trump’s retreat to Fox News continues a recent trend. Fox media reporter Howard Kurtz reported in June that Trump was scaling back on interviews with networks other than Fox. A Media Matters analysis found that between September 7, when Trump appeared on NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum, and September 22, Trump gave seven interviews to Fox News, totaling more than 1 hour and 40 minutes of airtime. During the same time frame, he had not appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, or MSNBC. Given Trump’s withdrawal to a network that repeatedly delivers softball interviews, it perhaps is not surprising that he struggled when he was actually fact-checked by a journalist at the debate. Responding to CNN host Carol Costello’s observation that Trump’s Fox & Friends interview did not include “difficult questions,” CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter noted that Trump had “mostly sheltered himself within conservative media” and said that he had “doubts about whether it's a winning strategy now.” And as The New York Times’ Alex Burns noted of the Fox & Friends interview, “[T]his is how you end up unprepared for real questions and real heat in a debate.”
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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.”