Paul Waldman

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  • The Bar Gets Lower: Media Reinforce Double Standard For Trump Ahead Of First Debate

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    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.

  • Media Finally Admit The Bar Is Lower For Trump. But Can They Fix It?

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Memo to the media: You cannot have it both ways on the double standard applied to presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

    After NBC’s Commander in Chief Forum, reporters and pundits proclaimed that media have held the two presidential nominees to different standards of knowledge and conduct, yet these media figures have also perpetuated the double standard by excusing Trump’s behavior and applauding him any time he shows a veneer of conventionality.

    Numerous media figures criticized Matt Lauer, host of the September 7 forum, for employing different questioning toward Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Lauer allowed Trump to lie about opposing the Iraq war, yet he used eight of his first nine questions for Clinton to grill her over her emails. Several media figures said Lauer’s line of questioning embodied the “double standard” that reporters across the board use to analyze the two candidates.

    If Media Figures Note The Double Standard ... 

    • MSNBC's Mike Barnicle: Trump Is The "Continued Beneficiary Of A Huge Double Standard." The morning after the forum, MSNBC’s Mike Barnicle told Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough that Lauer interviewed Trump “as if he were the co-host or the host of The Apprentice,” rather than a presidential candidate, noting, “Syria wasn’t mentioned. Aleppo wasn’t mentioned. The refugee crisis wasn’t mentioned.” He noted that the forum showed Trump is the “continued beneficiary of a huge double standard.”
    • Wash. Post Contributor Paul Waldman: “Hillary Clinton Gets Examined In A Very Different Way Than Donald Trump Does.” Following the forum, Washington Post contributor Paul Waldman explained that Clinton “gets examined in a very different way than Trump does” by the media. Speaking on the September 7 edition of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, Waldman faulted media for taking an “all hands on deck mentality” when reporting Clinton news -- saying that “everybody will investigate every nook and cranny to see if there’s anything there that looks untoward. And even if there isn’t, it becomes this story that drags out over the course of days and even weeks” -- as opposed to “strings of issues” about Trump that are reported once and then forgotten.
    • Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin: “Trump Is Being Held To A Less High Standard.” ” Prior to the forum, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin told co-host John Heilemann that “the Clinton campaign is right” that “Trump is being held to a less high standard” by reporters and that “the press is just not holding him accountable.” Halperin continued, “Trump is doing things that if Clinton did, she would be hit a lot harder,” and he urged media to “work on fixing that.” Co-host John Heilemann agreed with Halperin, despite having defended the double standard the week prior, when he said that “sometimes … you have to set the bar low” for Trump.
    • NY Times' Maggie Haberman: "The Bar Has Been Lowered For Trump Repeatedly." New York Times political correspondent Maggie Haberman said on CNN’s New Day leading up to the forum that Trump “keeps getting graded on a curve” and “the bar has been lowered for Trump repeatedly.” Haberman criticized media figures who assess Trump by asking, “Does he merely pass?” And then if he does, they record it as Trump “did very well.”
    • NY Times’ James Poniewozik Slams Lauer For Questioning Trump On A Curve. New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik scolded Lauer for treating Clinton “like someone running for president” but Trump “like someone running to figure out how to be president, eventually.” Poniewozik wrote that after grilling Clinton on her private email server, Lauer pitched Trump “the kind of whiffle ball job-interview” questions “you ask the boss’s nephew you know you have to hire anyway.”
    • CNN’s Brian Stelter: “It Is True That Trump Is Held To A Different Standard Than Clinton.” The day after the forum, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter told CNN host Ashleigh Banfield that “it is true that Trump is held to a different standard than Clinton” and said that “no doubt, at the forum, there was different treatment for Trump versus Clinton.”

    ... But Have Perpetuated It ...

    Despite all this commentary, media figures have consistently perpetuated the double standard, holding Trump to a lower bar than they do Clinton in terms of behavioral and ethical conduct -- and in measures of veracity. Most recently, when a report came out that Trump paid a fine to the IRS for making an illegal $25,000 donation to the 2013 re-election campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, broadcast news networks devoted a third as much as time to the matter as they provided to a flawed Associated Press story on the Clinton Foundation that proved no ethics breaches.

    Media figures have previously repeatedly pardoned Trump’s widely criticized rhetoric, policy flip-flops, and divisive comments because he’s “not a politician” and is “learning as he goes”:

    • Fox Hosts Excused Trump's Abortion Comments Because "He's Learning As He Goes." Hosts of Fox News’ Fox & Friends excused Trump’s statement in March that there should be some kind of punishment for women who obtain abortions, suggesting that Trump should not be expected to answer questions about abortion because they’re usually reserved for more experienced politicians. Co-host Steve Doocy excused Trump, saying, “He only became a politician about six or seven months ago.”
    • CNN’s Mark Preston: “You Have To Expect” Trump Will Abandon His Positions; He Can’t Be Thought Of In “Conventional Terms.” CNN political executive editor Mark Preston told New Day host Chris Cuomo in May that he was not surprised the presumptive nominee “took a half-step back” on banning Muslim immigrants because he can't be thought of in “conventional terms,” but rather “in Donald Trump terms.”
    • The Daily Beast’s Jackie Kucinich: “Consistency Should Be An Argument Against Donald Trump,” But Trump “Isn’t A Normal Candidate.” Daily Beast Washington bureau chief Jackie Kucinich claimed in May that while “consistency should be an argument against” Trump “in a normal political system,” Trump is “not a normal candidate” and thus his policy reversals might not affect him.

    Media have also absurdly applauded Trump any time he has appeared to assume even the slightest veneer of conventional, tempered behavior:

    • Reading A Speech From A Teleprompter: Media figures praised Trump as “presidential” in early June for delivering one speech with the aid of a teleprompter. Fox anchor Megyn Kelly praised Trump for being “a little bit more controlled using the teleprompter, which is something we almost never see him do, staying on message.”
    • Delivering One Speech Devoid Of Racist Attacks: Following the same speech, media figures also praised Trump as “presidential” for refraining from launching racist attacks against the federal judge presiding over Trump University lawsuits, which Trump had done for multiple days prior. CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.”
    • Rebutting A Joke About His Penis Size: Fox doctor Keith Ablow praised Donald Trump for “show[ing] an incredible degree of psychological strength” in responding to a joke about the size of his hands by referencing the size of his penis.
    • Not Calling Then-Opponent Ted Cruz “Lyin’ Ted”: Following Trump’s April victory in the New York primary, Fox’s Megyn Kelly and ABC’s Tom Llamas said Trump was becoming “more presidential” and “trying out a more presidential style” because he did not call his opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), “Lyin’ Ted.” Trump returned to using the phrase the next day.

    ... Will They Change? 

    Now that political media have admitted their own shortcomings in the cautionary tale of Lauer, will they level the playing field between Clinton and Trump?

    Researcher Tyler Cherry contributed research to this post.

  • Wash. Post’s Paul Waldman To Media: “Can We Please Not Grade Trump On A Curve?”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman called on members of the media to avoid judging Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “on a curve” when he delivers his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, asserting “simply reading a speech off a teleprompter is not in and of itself a praiseworthy accomplishment.”

    During Trump’s presidential campaign, media have repeatedly hyped Trump as a more “serious-sounding candidate” and problematically lauded imaginary campaign “pivots” after Trump has delivered pre-prepared speeches in a subdued tone or abstained from personally attacking his opponents. This pattern not only whitewashes Trump’s usual racist, sexist, and conspiratorial rhetoric, but also praises him for mastering “campaign 101.”

    Waldman beseeched media not to praise Trump for “getting all the way through” a single speech “without doing anything shocking or offensive” and treating the presidential candidate “as though he were an eight-year-old giving his first clarinet recital.” In the July 21 article, Waldman asserted that a speech absent of vulgarity and attacks is “the bare minimum we should expect from any functioning adult, much less someone seeking to become the most powerful person on Planet Earth,” and said “As we judge Trump’s speech …it’s equally important to note how everything he has done in this campaign contradicts that picture.”  From the article:

    I beseech everyone, particularly my colleagues in the media: Can we please not grade Trump on a curve?

    If there’s something he does or says that’s worthy of praise — a truly compelling new argument for his candidacy, a rhetorical flourish that brings a tear to the eye of every viewer, a newfound eloquence — then by all means give it the tribute it deserves. But let’s not forget that simply reading a speech off a teleprompter is not in and of itself a praiseworthy accomplishment.

    It’s a little hard to know what in particular to expect from Trump’s address, because unlike many presidential candidates, he didn’t have a standard stump speech that he delivered with only minor variations time and again on the campaign trail. Instead, Trump would get up before crowds and free-associate, rambling on about whatever popped into his mind, though a big chunk of every speech was taken up with reciting his terrific poll numbers and his fantastic results in previous primaries, lest anyone forget how great he was doing and how much everyone loved him. While there were often exciting moments — telling supporters to beat up a protester, mocking a disabled reporter, tossing out his latest bit of xenophobic fear-mongering — those covering the events regularly reported how boring the speeches were; at about the 45-minute mark, attendees who had waited on line for hours to get in often started drifting away.

    In part because his events generally showcase a bizarre combination of tedium and brownshirt rally, on the few occasions where Trump has delivered a prepared speech, pundits acted as though he were an eight-year-old giving his first clarinet recital. It barely mattered what it actually contained; he was lauded for getting all the way through it without doing anything shocking or offensive. Look at how “disciplined” he’s become! He stuck to the script! There were no insults thrown at minority groups! This new Trump really looks presidential!

    Given that history, I suspect that we’ll hear a similar reaction to tonight’s speech. So yes, we know that unless there’s a technical glitch or he faints dead away in the midst of it all, there will be words projected on a teleprompter, and Trump will speak those words out loud. They will be words written by other people and refined through multiple drafts, and as a consequence are likely to have at least some of the logical coherence and policy substance of which Trump is utterly incapable when speaking on his own. If his aides are successful in the begging and pleading they’re no doubt subjecting him to today, there will be few if any ad-libs. There won’t be any swearing, or surprise lines tossing out decades of American policy, or vulgar new attacks on a group of voters he has somehow not gotten around to offending yet.

    All that is the bare minimum we should expect from any functioning adult, much less someone seeking to become the most powerful person on Planet Earth. So if that’s all we get from Trump’s speech, can we agree that it isn’t enough to deserve hosannas of celebration?

  • Washington Post’s Waldman Explains How Donald Trump And Conservatives Spread Misinformation About The US Economy

    Paul Waldman: Between Republicans And Democrats’ Visions Of The Economy, "Only One Is Based In Reality"

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman described how GOP front-runner Donald Trump and conservatives are spreading misinformation about the economy to downplay economic success made during the Obama administration. Trump’s misinformation has been fueled and perpetuated by right-wing media outlets like Fox News.

    In an April 28 op-ed, Washington Post opinion blogger, Paul Waldman explained how Republicans are misleading about the health of the economy while dishonestly ignoring positive economic trends. Waldman specifically highlighted Donald Trump’s misinformation and how it drastically contrasted with reality:

    Here’s Donald Trump’s economic story:

    The economy is an absolute nightmare. Americans are living in such misery that they’re practically eating their own shoes in order to survive. If we cut taxes on the wealthy, reduce regulations on corporations, renegotiate trade agreements, and deport all illegal immigrants, then our economy will be spectacular and working people will experience American greatness again.


    Trump’s story is the same one other Republicans tell, with the addition of the idea that “bad deals” on trade have had a crippling effect on the country. For the moment we’ll put aside the merits of Trump’s claim that imposing enormous tariffs on Chinese goods will cause all those jobs sewing clothing and assembling electronics to come pouring into the United States, but the political question around Trump’s story is whether people will believe his over-the-top description of both what’s happening now and the transformation he will be able to produce.


    Today, the objective reality is a lot closer to the way Democrats describe it, in large part because they aren’t offering an extreme version of their truth. If Obama and Clinton were more rhetorically similar to Donald Trump, they’d be saying that this is the greatest economy in the history of human civilization, everybody has a terrific job, and there’s so much prosperity that the only question any American has is whether to spend their money on everything they could ever want or just roll around in it like Scrooge McDuck.

    But they aren’t saying that. Instead, they’re attempting the tricky balancing act of emphasizing the progress Obama has made while acknowledging the long-term weaknesses in the economy. Both of those things are real. Since the bottom of the Great Recession early in Obama’s first term, the economy has added 14 million jobs, and unemployment is now at 5 percent. On the other hand, income growth has been concentrated at the top and Americans still feel uncertain about their economic futures.

    Donald Trump has chosen to pretend that the good things about the American economy don’t exist, and weave a laughable fantasy about what his policies will produce (“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created”).

    Trump’s misinformation echoes right-wing media, who often stoke fears and downplay positive changes in the U.S. economy.

  • How The 'Liberal Media' Keep Blaming Obama for Republican Behavior, Continued

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The problem with so much of the Beltway media's ongoing commentary regarding the sequestration showdown between Republicans and President Obama is that it reflects the central failing of the press throughout Obama's presidency: It blames the president for the GOP's ingrained, signature obstinacy.

    Earlier this week, I noted that the bulk of the commentary class was berating Obama for failing to "lead" on the budget issue. They faulted him for not fashioning a deal despite the fact that Republicans made it plain they did not want to make a deal, which wasn't surprising since they've been emphatically saying no to Obama for nearly 50 months. Nonetheless, Obama's to blame because he failed to change the GOP's ways.

    As an update, it's now worth noting that the media's blame-Obama approach is additionally misguided because we're learning more and more Republican members of Congress don't understand, or haven't bothered to find out, what the president is offering in terms of his deficit reduction plan. So not only does the press fault Obama for Republicans' (obstructionist) behavior, it also penalizes him for the fact that Republicans don't know what the White House proposed to avoid sequestration.

    That doesn't seem fair.  

    Here's what NBC News' Chuck Todd reported on the president's dinner with Republican senators Wednesday night [emphasis added]:

    In fact, one senator told us that he learned, for the first time, the actual cuts that the president has put on the table. Leadership hadn't shared that list with them before.

    As bloggers noted, Republicans need not rely on party leaders to inform them about Obama's proposed cuts. They're posted on the Internet and have been widely written about.

    But the Republicans' astonishing lack of knowledge about Obama's detailed deficit reduction proposal, the same proposal they've rejected, appears to be widespread. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein reported that at an off-the-record session with Republican lawmakers, one Congressman didn't know about a key cost-cutting concession Obama had made regarding Social Security benefits.

    From Paul Waldman, writing at The American Prospect:

    The Republican position is that this negotiation is of vital importance to the future of the country, indeed, so important that they may be willing to shut the government down and let the full faith and credit of the United States be destroyed if they don't get what they want; but they also can't be bothered to understand what it is the other side wants.

    But remember, Beltway pundits agree: The partisan impasse that led to sequestration was Obama's fault.