Joe Strupp

Author ››› Joe Strupp
  • Milwaukee Journalists: Sheriff David Clarke Is “Missing In Action”

    “It’s Horrible. He’s Got People Dying In His Own Jails And He Is Nowhere To Be Found”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin has become a fixture on Fox News and at conservative political events, regularly serving as a shameless advocate for President Donald Trump.

    But local journalists who report on the 15-year sheriff of Wisconsin’s most populous county say his newfound national spotlight sharply detracts from his law enforcement duties. They note that he spends much of his time away from home, either promoting Trump or pushing his new book, Cop Under Fire: Moving Beyond Hashtags of Race, Crime and Politics for a Better America

    Wisconsin reporters also point out that his local approval ratings continue to fall as he ignores his responsibilities, as well as a string of troubling incidents that have occurred in the past few years. Chief among the concerns are four inmate deaths that occurred in his jails in 2016, which Clarke has failed to adequately explain, they say.

    “It gives the impression that he is missing in action and that he is an advocate for the Trump administration,” Daniel Bice, a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who has reported extensively on Clarke, said about his recent actions. “The perception is that he has gone from being the sheriff to being an advocate for Trump -- that is his primary role right now.”

    Clarke, a Democrat and African-American, is among Fox News' favorite guests. A search of Fox News transcripts on Nexis since 2015 finds he has made prime time appearances more than 100 times, in most cases to discuss national issues, not his home county. (Nexis does not capture Fox News appearances on morning and daytime programming.)

    In addition, a recent Journal Sentinel review of Clarke’s outside income disclosure statements found he had earned more than $220,000 in 2016 from speaking fees and related expenses, along with other gifts, during speeches to 34 different groups in 20 states outside of Wisconsin. These earnings outpace his sheriff salary which is $132,290.

    “He’s not around and he’s not doing his job and not providing any leadership,” said Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative Wisconsin talk show host now appearing on MSNBC and WNYC Radio in New York. “His approach has been to refuse to comment, refuse to be transparent in any way, and attack anyone who raises questions about it.”

    And then there are the questionable incidents involving Clarke, ranging from his tweet calling CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill a “jigaboo” to his alleged harassment of a fellow airplane passenger.

    Clarke also called for a boycott of a local Fox affiliate, claiming it presented “fake news” and “racist” coverage.

    “He doesn’t talk to the local press except through the county sheriff’s Facebook page, but he does talk to Fox News, which is a contrast,” Bice said. “The assumption nationally among the conservatives is that he is beloved here, but even conservatives are frustrated with how long he is gone and not doing his job.”

    Clarke was first appointed sheriff in 2002, winning re-election later that year and again in 2006, 2010 and 2014. He is up for re-election again in 2018.

    But he didn't gain national prominence until his last election, when groups of gun-safety advocates helped support an effort to have him voted out.

    When he won that election, local reporters say, he started getting national attention as a gun-rights advocate and law enforcement voice. He drew further attention last year when he spoke out against the Black Lives Matter movement, calling it a hate group. He was also an early Trump supporter.

    One of the misconceptions about Clarke, however, is his image as a crime-fighter, local journalists say. His office does very little in the way of policing, with most of its work focused on the county's jails, highways, and parks.

    “The county sheriff has almost nothing to do with crime. The police handle the crime,” said Bruce Murphy, editor of UrbanMilwaukee.com, former editor of Milwaukee Magazine and onetime Journal Sentinel reporter. “He’s the classic example of all hat and no cattle. He talks tough and he has the impression of being this guy who is taking care of crime, and he has very little to do with it.”

    A January 31 report from Public Policy Polling found that Clarke had a 31 percent approval rating among local voters, and it noted that “voters consider him to be somewhat of a national embarrassment.” It also revealed that 65 percent believed Clarke has had a negative impact on Milwaukee County’s image.

    PolitiFact, meanwhile, has deemed 75 percent of his statements that it reviewed false or mostly false.

    “He’s very thin-skinned. He enjoys the limelight, likes the big checks and flying first class,” said Mike Crute, a talk show host on WRRD News Talk 1510 in Milwaukee. “It’s horrible. He’s got people dying in his own jails and he is nowhere to be found.”

    Crute added: “He is a guy who undermines the office and the public service office. It’s all narcissism, building himself as a TV brand, following Trump’s example. The sheriff’s office and its duties are just tedious to him. He doesn’t do anything.”

    James Wigderson, assistant editor of the conservative website RightWisconsin.com, called the outside appearances “a distraction.”

    “The fact that he probably earns more from speaking fees than he does at his day job leads you to believe that his day job has to be suffering at some point in this process,” Wigderson said. “It’s a mixed bag in Milwaukee County when you are more frequently appearing on Fox News nationally than you are on the local news discussing what is going on in Milwaukee County.”

    Journalists also say that he has not properly addressed the jail deaths or his constant trips out of town. When Media Matters approached him at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in February outside Washington, D.C., Clarke declined to comment on either.

    Most reporters who cover Clarke believe he will not run for re-election in 2018, due in part to his diminishing local image and popularity, but also because of his continued support for Trump, as many believe he still hopes to serve the president in some capacity.

    “He’s become a Fox News commentator/Trump surrogate and at that point has become almost completely disconnected with the community,” said Sykes.

    In response to a request for comment, Fran McLaughlin at Clarke's office sent the following:

    I spoke with the sheriff :

    The left (Progressives, Democrats) doesn't think a black guy is capable of handling many things at one time. Let me introduce them to Sheriff David Clarke. He's added Tammy Baldwin to the list. He's EVERYWHERE! He's too busy to talk to you right now though. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain

  • Public Media Executives: Trump's "Foolish" Public Broadcasting Cuts Will Hurt “Small-Town America”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    President Donald Trump’s proposal to gut funding for public broadcasting in his new budget released Thursday would mostly harm residents of small rural towns, many of who are Republican voters, according to public TV and radio executives.

    The 2018 budget plan from the White House would eliminate all federal subsidies for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which was allotted $445 million to fund local National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations and productions in the 2017 federal budget. Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services -- which totaled more than $500 million in the 2017 budget -- would also be eliminated. 

    While some of the larger stations would see a smaller reduction in their budgets -- between 2 percent and 7 percent -- some smaller stations in rural areas depend on the funding for up to 30 percent of their operating costs, station managers say. And many of those stations are often one of the few sources for news and information in their locations.

    “At smaller radio stations, there is no question the cuts would be more significant, for stations in rural areas particularly where there are strong constituents for Donald Trump, one of the ironies,” said Bill Davis, president of Southern California Public Radio, which operates several stations led by KPCC in Pasadena. “It would be a significant hit at every level of decentralized public media we have here. You are going to have different impacts, but they are all pretty significant.”

    For his stations, it would mean a $1.2 million to $1.4 million annual reduction. “That would be a cut of about 12 employees,” he said. “It’s a real hit. Even at the largest station level, this will have potential significant consequences.”

    William J. Marrazzo, CEO of Philadelphia's WHYY-TV and WHYY-FM, agreed.

    “The lion’s share of the money does find its way into local station hands and the term is Community Service Grants,” he said. “The CPB makes definite grants to local public television and local public radio stations.”

    He said about 7 percent of his budget comes from the federal government, around $2.5 million per year. But smaller stations need it even more.

    “It puts more of the money into communities that don’t have that local infrastructure to build out that universal access model,” Marrazzo said. “It hurts. It’s a very tiny percentage of the federal appropriation and any cut of any size is coming at a time when there is growing evidence that the American public wants more and more from its local public media companies. It is clear by all the research that we conduct that public media has the most trusted form of news and information, that public media has the easiest portal to giving people access to creative expression.”

    Public broadcasting veterans and local executives stressed that the biggest impact of such cuts will be on the most needy citizens, those with few free broadcasting options.

    “Public stations provide truthful journalism, cultural, educational content throughout the country and today, 170 million people from urban and rural areas alike enjoy and learn from their local public stations that provide content that commercial broadcasting cannot produce,” Anthony Brandon, president and general manager of WYPR Public Radio in Baltimore, said via email. “De-funding public media is foolish and hurts local stations in red and blue states. We hope Congress will think of the origins of the CPB while the funding debate goes on.”

    Jeffrey Dvorkin, a former vice president of news and information at NPR and former NPR ombudsman, called the cuts “very disturbing.”

    “In the past, public broadcasting has had very strong support in Republican districts. They are listening and it is reasonably balanced,” he said. “In my time at NPR I heard from a lot of conservatives who did not always agree, but they liked the programming. In some important ways public broadcasting is infrastructure, it is important.”

    He said CPB pays for up to 30 percent of operational budgets for many stations in smaller areas with smaller populations.

    “Small-town America in the middle of the country, in Alaska, where there’s a large population of people who depend on broadcasters for an informational lifeline,” Dvorkin said. “The whole concept of what is in the public interest has been hijacked by conservative think tanks and thinking.”

    Asked what will happen if the funding is cut so dramatically, Dvorkin said, “It will be a monopoly situation for talk radio because as some of these stations are finding out now they cannot exist. As these stations are driven close to bankruptcy, their license will be picked up by talk radio and commercial TV.”

    Alicia Shepard, a former NPR ombudsman, called this funding threat among “the most serious” in NPR and PBS history.

    "This is not the first time, they are threatened. But it is the most serious,” she said via email. “It would be a big mistake to eliminate funding for NPR and PBS.  The amount that goes to fair, balanced and thoughtful reporting is minuscule in comparison to the defense budget.” She also noted, “let's not forget that PBS and NPR act as the government's emergency broadcasting network. And in rural areas, PBS and NPR might be all people have access to."

    Leaders of the CPB and PBS each issued strong criticisms of the budget plan today.

    "PBS and our nearly 350 member stations, along with our viewers, continue to remind Congress of our strong support among Republican and Democratic voters, in rural and urban areas across every region of the country,” PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said in her statement. “We have always had support from both parties in Congress, and will again make clear what the public receives in return for federal funding for public broadcasting. The cost of public broadcasting is small, only $1.35 per citizen per year, and the benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids 2-8, support for teachers and homeschoolers, lifelong learning, public safety communications and civil discourse."
     
    She also cited two new national surveys -- by conservative-leaning Rasmussen Reports and from collaboration of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint and Democratic polling firm Hart Research Associates -- that revealed voters “across the political spectrum overwhelmingly oppose eliminating federal funding for public television. Rasmussen shows that just 21% of Americans – and only 32% of Republicans –favor ending public broadcasting support. In the PBS Hart Research-American Viewpoint poll, 83% of voters – including 70% of those who voted for President Trump – say they want Congress to find savings elsewhere.”

    Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the CPB, stated:

    There is no viable substitute for federal funding that ensures Americans have universal access to public media’s educational and informational programming and services. The elimination of federal funding to CPB would initially devastate and ultimately destroy public media’s role in early childhood education, public safety, connecting citizens to our history, and promoting civil discussions for Americans in rural and urban communities alike.

    Public media is one of America’s best investments. At approximately $1.35 per citizen per year, it pays huge dividends to every American. From expanding opportunity, beginning with proven children’s educational content to providing essential news and information as well as ensuring public safety and homeland security through emergency alerts, this vital investment strengthens our communities. It is especially critical for those living in small towns and in rural and underserved areas.

    Viewers and listeners appreciate that public media is non-commercial and available for free to all Americans. We will work with the new Administration and Congress in raising awareness that elimination of federal funding to CPB begins the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service.

    Bill Moyers, the award-winning PBS host and news legend, also spoke out against the proposed cuts. He told Media Matters that a decades-long crusade by some conservatives to eliminate public broadcasting may succeed "now that they control the White House, the House, and the Senate," while also offering a measure of hope, predicting that "it won’t be the end of us. There’s strong support across the country for public television –- especially children’s and cultural programming –- and even stronger appreciation for NPR’s news and public affairs programming." 

    Moyers added that the proposed cuts would mean "many of the smallest stations around the country will struggle and likely perish and the people who supported Trump outside the large metropolitan areas will lose a cultural presence in their lives that they value." He concluded, "Still, I can’t believe the public at large wants to see public television or public radio disappear and will rally to support both public television and radio in new ways."

  • Crime Reporters And Experts Rip Misleading Trump Immigrant Crime Office

    “Always Be Weary Of Policy That Is Made By Anecdote”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Crime reporters and criminologists say President Donald Trump’s new federal office devoted to crimes committed by immigrants is unnecessary and that creating such an entity is misleading since foreign-born residents actually commit fewer crimes than most native citizens.

    They also urged journalists covering the issue and the president’s claims that immigrant crime is a major issue to go beyond just reporting Trump’s anecdotal allegations and present the data that continue to prove his theories wrong.

    During his Tuesday address to Congress, Trump announced that his administration is creating “an office to serve American victims,” dubbed VOICE (Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement). He announced the new office while claiming that cracking down on immigration will "make our communities safer" and characterizing those who will be deported as "gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens."

    He punctuated his claims by inviting several guests impacted by crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to attend the speech.

    But those who have covered and researched crime say Trump's approach to the issue wrongly paints immigrants broadly as criminals when the facts don't support that generalization.

    “The general picture, as we have noted many times, is that immigrants commit fewer crimes than nonimmigrants and that is well-documented,” said Ted Gest, co-founder of Criminal Justice Journalists and a former crime reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and U.S. News & World Report. “He is obviously cherry-picking these cases where they have committed crimes.”

    “He has made many more misstatements on crime, through the whole campaign, and it seems to me that, like a lot of people, he tries to pick out things that favor his views,” said Gest, who is also the author of the books Crime and Politics: Big Government's Erratic Campaign for Law and Order and Understanding Crime and Justice Statistics (the latter a guide for journalists written with Daniel Lathrop). “I cannot understand myself how he can keep making these misstatements.”

    Gest urged reporters on the story to “point out the total picture. I don’t know that a lot of journalists know that.”

    Conservative media figures and nativist groups have fearmongered for years about a supposed undocumented immigrant “crime wave” that is not supported by data.

    David J. Krajicek, another board member of Criminal Justice Journalists and a crime reporter since the 1970s -- whose work includes writing for the New York Daily News -- echoed Gest’s view.

    “It’s statistically not true that immigrants commit more crimes than legal native residents of the U.S.,” he said. “I think journalists are having some difficulty trying to report the facts that countermand the many, many assertions that [Trump] and [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions are making about crime.”

    Krajicek said one of the problems with Trump's claims about immigrants and crime is that the far-right media pick them up without verifying that they're true.

    “We are living in a world where there are two media echo chambers,” he said. “Fox News, Breitbart and the like, and those of us who have a broader diet of news.”

    He said reporters should “always be weary of policy that is made by anecdote. You can go out and find an anecdote to fit any policy narrative that you like. I hope that journalists ask the question of whether it is based in fact or just the worst-case example.”

    Marisa Lagos, a criminal justice reporter at KQED Public Radio and TV in San Francisco, said that “there’s no evidence that shows immigrants commit as much crime as citizens.”

    Her advice to reporters on the story: “Remind folks that the immigration system is a civil system, not a criminal system. Given the data and research, it is a dangerous narrative that there is more crime perpetrated by people who are immigrants, and we know it is not true.”

    James Lynch, president of the American Society of Criminology and a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, also said Trump’s plan misrepresents the truth.

    “The work I’ve done on immigrants and crime is pretty clear. … By and large the evidence in the last 20 years is that they have lower incidences of crime compared to the public at large,” Lynch said. “The immigrant population does nothing but good -- they pay taxes, they do the work. It is pretty clear that immigrants are a positive force and a very low production of crime on their part.”

    Asked how the media should cover the story, he said, “They should do due diligence. … I would be skeptical of anything that comes out of a political speech.”

    Christina DeJong, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University, said one of the reasons for the lower crime rate among immigrants is that many came to the U.S. for a better life, leaving behind persecution or economic problems.

    “When immigration goes up, crime goes down,” she said. “The reason that most immigrants end up in jail is related to their immigration status, not some other crime. They tend to come here looking for safety.”

    Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, said Trump’s new office is unnecessary because victims already have many options.

    “I’m not really sure how this office is going to help victims of immigrant crime,” she said. “If someone is attacked, is hurt, is robbed by someone who is undocumented, they go to the police. If it evolves to federal crime, they go to the FBI.”

    She also said there is already a federal Office for Victims of Crime at the Department of Justice.

    “I don’t understand the need,” Fernandez added. “If you are a victim of a crime, you are a victim regardless of who the perpetrator is.”

    She also urged reporters to take into account all of the data when reporting on the issue: 

    “There is no real data to say this is an enormous problem. You are taking resources that don’t need to be placed there. I have not seen data that says there is an overrepresentation of victims of crime by immigrants.”

  • In The CPAC Bubble, "Every Day Is Christmas" With President Trump In Office

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    While President Donald Trump is off to a rocky, even chaotic, start by many accounts -- with the "highest disapproval for a new elected president since polls began tracking those results," according to CNN -- at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week, he was cheered as a success.

    Trump has waged a war on the press, regularly seeking to undermine critical media outlets while elevating propagandists who applaud his every move. CPAC attendees have heard the message loud and clear, saying they favor outlets like Fox News and Breitbart for their information over the supposedly dishonest mainstream media.

    Trump again played to that anti-media fervor when he spoke at the conference Friday, accusing certain media outlets of being "an enemy of the people."

    A year after many CPAC attendees said they didn't want Trump to attend the annual D.C.-area event, prompting him to stay away, the majority of the conferencegoers who spoke to Media Matters this week rated his first month in office positively. Many said he's living up to his promises, including on issues like immigration, foreign affairs, and business relations. And both conservative media voices and regular attendees were unified in their support.

    “I think it’s been fantastic,” said Lars Larson, a syndicated conservative radio talk host. “He’s moving at the speed of business, and everybody else is having to adjust. The media is having to adjust to the idea that they have a president who will push back when appropriate. The media has to adjust to the fact that he moves fast and the rest of the government moves slow.”

    As for chaos, Larson added, “I think the chaos is almost entirely created -- the impression of chaos. I don’t know how in the world someone could take over any operation, chief executive, bring in 4,000 new employees in the span of 30 days -- how do you do that without some missteps?”

    Larry O’Connor, a local D.C. talk radio host and online editor at The Weekly Standard, added that Trump is “doing what he promised and you can’t ask for more than that.”

    As for media coverage of Trump, he joined others in saying, “The media has fallen into a bit of a trap of propping themselves up as the last bastion of truth when they criticize the White House for playing fast and loose with the facts, but they didn’t seem to care about it for the past eight years.”

    Rick Tyler, an MSNBC and Sirius Radio commentator and former Newt Gingrich aide and Ted Cruz spokesperson, said, “On balance, I think he is doing very well. Stylistically, he’s been terrible.”

    Asked why many at CPAC who didn't want him around last year are welcoming him with open arms today, Tyler said one reason is that he won the election.

    “There are a lot of reasons why," he said. “One is that he beat Hillary Clinton. He got two pipelines back in, he won major coal rights. … He is trying to create a rational immigration system.”

    John Fredericks, a Virginia-based radio talk show host, called Trump’s first month “phenomenal, unbelievable. If you are a Trump supporter, this has been the most phenomenal first month because he is in the face of his detractors.”

    Like many at the conference, he says Trump owes no apologies: “He's turning the whole Washington elite media on its head. It's the great disruption of his time. You’ve got to start by breaking the system to pieces, then you can get things done.”

    The conference's non-media attendees -- many of them students -- were even stronger in their praise of Trump’s first few weeks. And they, too, attacked the press.

    But there was no talk of Trump's questionable ties to Russia, criticism of the FBI, or other internal problems.

    “I like him a lot. He's doing what he said he could do,” said Jennifer Perrautt, a University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, student who spoke as she waited in line to see Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday. “On immigration and on wanting to overturn Obamacare.”

    Like most at the conference, Perrautt is a Fox News viewer. Asked about other mainstream outlets, she said: “I don’t really like it. They always try to paint him in a bad light. They nitpick everything he says.”

    Isabella Olson of Fond du Lac, WI, a Fox News viewer and a member of the University of Wisconsin College Republicans, agreed.

    “I’m happy with what he's doing. He's doing what he said he would. I’m happy for the immigration moves,” she said, later adding about the media, “They've mistreated him. They say he's evil.”

    Kathy Frey, an attendee from Edina, MN, said she and her friend drove to D.C. to see Trump and help support him this week.

    “I love him. Every day is Christmas,” she said. “He’s fulfilling his promises. We need a thriving economy, and I trust he will do what is needed.”

    As for media coverage of Trump, she called it “horrendous, negative and not to be trusted. They should be objective. We don’t have objective media.” Frey said her news sources are Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

    Her friend Barb Sutter, also a Fox News fan, added that she was “impressed at the [Trump] work ethic. He never made a secret of what he would do.”

  • Presidential Historians And Journalists: Trump’s “Chaotic” And “Bizarre” First Month Is Unprecedented

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Presidential historians and veteran Washington correspondents say President Donald Trump’s first month in office -- which has been marred by numerous scandals and vicious attacks on the press -- is more “chaotic” and “bizarre” than any administration's first month in history.

    Trump put his anti-press venom on display again last Thursday in a wild press conference, during which he doubled down on claims that the press is out to get him and traffics in “fake news.”

    “This is a new level of bashing the press,” Yale University history professor David Blight said shortly after the press conference ended. “It’s a complete disaster. All he is doing is daring the press to keep hunting.”

    Blight is among several historians and veteran D.C. correspondents who spoke to Media Matters about how Trump’s first month in office compares to those of his predecessors. They painted a picture of Trump’s first weeks as an unprecedented mix of chaos and mounting scandals.

    “In all the administrations I've observed, and all the ones I've studied, I've never seen such confusion and internal tension so early as in this one,” H.W. Brands, a presidential historian who has written books on Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan, said via email. Referencing the recent resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, Brands added, “I can't recall a top adviser being forced out so soon. The knives are out; more casualties seem likely.”

    According to Brands, “This administration, with very little experience of Washington -- and with often expressed contempt for Washington's ways -- has had a rougher start than any in living memory.”

    William H. Chafe, a Duke University history professor and former president of the Organization of American Historians, called Trump’s early weeks “totally unprecedented.”

    “There’s been so much instability, so many scandals, and no legislation,” Chafe said. “By this time, Obama had already passed his stimulus package in Congress. You are talking about a completely unprecedented situation.” 

    Patrick Maney, a Boston College presidential historian, said many presidents have started out with troubles, but not at this level.

    “This is sort of like warp speed. What is amazing to me is that this has happened in such a short time,” he said, later pointing to Trump’s anti-press approach as “rawer than any I have ever seen. Even Nixon and Clinton at their angriest with the press, it wasn’t at the same level as Trump.”

    Longtime Washington, D.C., journalists and former White House correspondents also say Trump's first month is unprecedented.

    “Everything about Trump is a whole higher level of confusion because of the way he operates,” said Ron Hutcheson, a former Knight Ridder White House correspondent and past president of the White House Correspondents Association. “The media part is truly unprecedented.”

    He added, “There appears to be no effort at message discipline. I am sure the comms team has one, but the president keeps stepping on it. That’s a huge change. He has experienced comms people who get the concept of, ‘let’s figure out what we want to deliver our message.’ But inevitably it gets fouled up, and usually because of something the president does.”

    Marilyn Thompson, a former three-year Reuters Washington bureau chief during the Obama Administration and 27-year D.C. journalist called the administration “a rudderless ship.”

    “He feels like he has stumbled in a very short time into any number of serious national security and ethical breaches that are just uncustomary,” she said. “They are hostile to the press in a way that I have never seen before and it is not a good recipe for running the country.”

    Andy Alexander, a former Cox Newspapers Washington bureau chief, echoed that view: “It’s nothing new for White House officials to spin stories, shade the truth, conceal information or intentionally mislead. But what we are seeing today is routine prevarication on a large scale, with frequent assertions that are demonstrably false.”

    Marvin Kalb, a D.C.-based reporter from 1963 to 1987 and former Meet the Press host, pointed to the ongoing questions about the Trump administration's alleged ties to Russia.

    He called it a “thoroughly remarkable inability of Congress to launch a top to bottom investigation of the Trump-Russia connection. It’s one of the most important stories at the beginning of any administration that I have ever seen.”

    Clark Hoyt, a former longtime Washington reporter for Knight Ridder who covered the Nixon White House and resignation, also ran its D.C. bureau from 1987-1993 and 1999-2006. He also found no past equal to Trump’s first weeks in office.

    “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Hoyt said. “From the moment that you come in, I have never seen an inaugural address that failed to reach out. Then declaring you are at a running war with the media, then the disorganization from within, the chaotic nature of activity within the White House.”

    Asked how the press should approach such an unusual administration that attacks them, lies constantly, and seeks to divert attention, presidential historians said journalists should dig in even deeper.

    “You have to ask the toughest questions you possibly can,” said Duke University’s Blight. “The press should be asking for evidence, evidence, evidence, examples, examples, examples” when claims are made.

    Maney of Boston College said reporters should not let every little item or tweet distract them from focusing on bigger, in-depth stories such as Russia or large-scale policy plans.

    “One error the media has made is this across-the-board criticism and ignoring some more serious issues,” he said. “Some of this is just bizarre, some if it I don’t know how the press can handle it.” 

    Meg Jacobs, a presidential historian at Princeton and Columbia universities, also urged journalists not to back off, even when they are attacked.

    “They have to continue to call him out where they see him fabricating and straying from the truth,” she said. “They have to cover his efforts to transform the relationship with the press as a story as well as the substance of what the administration is doing.”

  • Wall Street Journal Reporters Concerned About Paper's Softer Trump Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Wall Street Journal staffers are increasingly concerned that the paper’s coverage of President Donald Trump is not critical enough and too willing to defend his actions rather than serve a watchdog role. In interviews with Media Matters, Journal reporters say that there has been pressure “to reflect pro-Trump viewpoints” in articles and that “everyone in the newsroom is concerned about it.”

    Earlier this week, BuzzFeed reported on a memo sent by Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker that “instructed editors to stop referring to the countries targeted in President Trump’s travel and refugee executive order as ‘seven majority Muslim countries’ in news coverage, a move that has irked some reporters in the paper’s Washington bureau.”

    Journal reporters who spoke to Media Matters said the memo is just one of many coverage concerns they have related to the new president.

    “The issue that is more subtle is the pressure to reflect pro-Trump viewpoints in the story, that’s growing,” said one veteran reporter who requested anonymity to avoid retribution. He added that it began during the campaign. “The Journal abdicated its responsibility to punch hard. They should have trained the D.C. bureau on Trump and hit hard.”

    Another reporter said the directives from above are unclear, prompting concern about how critical to be of Trump.

    “Everyone in the newsroom is concerned about it,” the reporter said. “The concern is that they are over-correcting a little bit, that is the worry, that we are not being as tough on the administration as we could.”

    The journalist also raised the issue of normalizing Trump’s behavior when his actions are treated like those of any president.

    “That’s the real issue, whether you’re a liberal or conservative outlet, that is the question you have to answer,” the reporter said. “What is the objective term to use to describe what is a lunatic policy? That is a really big worry, as the water drips and erodes this thing.”

    A third Journal reporter who requested anonymity told Media Matters: “We’d like to see more of a message that we are going to be really tough on this administration.”*

    Complaints from inside the Journal newsroom about its coverage of Trump aren’t new. In October, Politico quoted sources at the Journal lamenting that there had been “flattering access stories" on the front page, and that the coverage of then-candidate Trump had become “neutral to the point of being absurd.”

    The Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. 

    Tim Martell, executive director of Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees (IAPE) Local 1096, which represents 400 Journal newsroom staffers, said he is hearing even more anger now that Trump has taken office about a softer tone on some stories.

    “Members have expressed concern about the possibility of editorial interference regarding coverage of the president and the new administration,” said Martell. “We are watching. We are paying very close attention, and if we find that any sort of editorial interference does exist or if any of our members are subject to any type of disciplinary action, we will be sure to defend our members to the best of our ability.”

    Martell said the worries are greater than some past complaints related to Journal coverage of previous Republican administrations.

    “I think this seems like this is new ground,” he said. “Every news organization has the occasional clash between editor and reporter and that’s fine. If the company wants to set editorial policy, it’s their paper. But we’re concerned, there seems to be a greater level of concern these days than there has been. This has been percolating for a while.”

    *Additional reporting added after posting.  

  • Voter Fraud Experts: Trump’s “Bizarre” Claim Of Illegal Votes Could Lead To Severe Voter Restrictions

    Journalists Urged To Call Out “Bogus” Assertion

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    President Donald Trump’s continued bogus claims that between three and five million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election have drawn concern and criticism from voter fraud experts who say the allegation hurts the new administration’s credibility and paves the way for severe voter restrictions.

    Trump, who first tossed out the baseless allegation following a victory where he won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote, reportedly doubled down on the claim during a meeting Monday with congressional leaders. Asked about the issue at Tuesday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to back down from the assertion, saying, “the president does believe that.”

    Trump went a step further on Twitter this morning, tweeting: “I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and.... even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!”

    Trump’s lie that millions voted illegally came from conspiracy theorists like radio host Alex Jones, whose Infowars website began propagating the false claims shortly after the November 8 election. Right-wing media have been claiming for years that there’s widespread voter fraud despite evidence to the contrary.

    But election experts who have studied voter fraud repeated the long-held view that such widespread activity did not occur in this election and would be “impossible” to undertake. Several also urged reporters to continue asking for proof and evidence and make clear there is no basis for such a charge.

    “Neither the president nor his press secretary has produced any evidence to back up their fraud claim,” said Bill Schneider, a visiting professor at the UCLA department of communication studies and former senior political analyst for CNN. “The press has to insist that they produce evidence of such a sensational claim. Unless they do, it should be reported as a bogus argument with no proven validity.”

    Schneider went on to explain why such fraud claims are inaccurate, calling them “absurd.”

    “Every state controls its own voting laws (and in some states, it's done by local communities),” he said via email. “It would be impossible to perpetrate voter fraud on that scale without attracting attention from the authorities.”

    Other experts agreed.

    Philip B. Stark, a professor of statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “Every investigation of voter fraud that has taken place has found this is in the ones and twos, not hundreds, thousands and certainly not millions. There’s evidence that it’s not true and there is no evidence that it is true. There is research that can be done.”

    Rick Hasen, a law professor specializing in election law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said, “I don’t think there is any proof whatsoever of illegal voting in the thousands, much less in the millions, much less that affected the outcome in any state. There are safeguards in place to make sure that this doesn’t happen, both before the fact and after the fact. The rates of non-citizen voting are extremely low, despite people looking for it.”

    Hasen also urged reporters to continue correcting the record, saying, “It’s important to point out that the claims are false and that they are not backed by any credible evidence.”

    He added that Trump and Spicer’s choice to perpetuate the myth “undermines people’s confidence in the electoral process and I think it can provide the justification for restrictive voting rules. Many more legitimate voters are going to be disenfranchised by these rules than illegitimate voters being barred from voting.”

    Lorraine Minnite, author of the 2010 book The Myth of Voter Fraud and a Rutgers University professor of political science, said Trump’s claim is “bizarre.” She also offered concern that it could lead to unfair voter restrictions.

    “In the past, the use of these false allegations has been to create public opinion for laws that restrict voting, I assume that’s still the strategy,” she said in an interview. “I don’t think they care about evidence.”

    Michael McDonald, director of the U.S. Election Project at the University of Florida, called voter fraud a “relatively rare event,” and agreed this may be a first step toward tighter voter I.D. laws and other restrictions.

    “When Republicans take control of government they look to consolidate their power and one way to do this is enact voter identification,” McDonald said in an interview. “My impression here is not so much that this is a falsehood, the goal here is to provide a pretext to pass a federal law to amend the national requirement for voting.”

    Joshua A. Douglas, a University of Kentucky College of Law professor who specializes in voting rights and election law, also co-edited a 2016 book, Election Law Stories.

    He said Spicer’s comments to the media about Trump's voter fraud conspiracy “undermine” the press secretary’s legitimacy: “The American public can’t know if he can be trusted. It also lays the groundwork for voter suppression laws.”

    “When the next voter bill gets proposed, they can point to this as evidence for why,” Douglas added. “If you tell the public something enough times they can believe it.”

    He also said, “the press should be willing to call them out when they make falsehoods and call on them to provide evidence.”

  • “We Can’t Be Intimidated”: Journalists Speak Out On How The Press Should Cover Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Facing the reality of President-elect Donald Trump’s impending inauguration, traditional media outlets can either band together in the face of Trump’s bullying anti-press tactics or risk being steamrolled by the incoming administration.

    In interviews with Media Matters, journalists and other media experts argue that reporters need to be ready to recommit to solid, rigorous reporting to hold Trump accountable and to stand together in the face of the Trump administration’s inevitable anti-press crusade.

    Since being elected, Trump has continued to lash out at critical media outlets through his Twitter account. At his long-delayed first press conference as president-elect last week, Trump berated CNN reporter Jim Acosta, refused to let him ask a question, and dubbed his network “fake news.” Other journalists who were gathered for the press conference essentially just watched.

    Several experts told Media Matters that the Acosta incident highlights the need for journalists to stand up to Trump.

    “Part of the problem here is the press is walking into a buzzsaw,” said Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker. “There is a large percentage of the population that don’t believe us. Anytime a Jim Acosta raises his hand and tries to get the attention of the president-elect, there is a sizeable part of the population that says, ‘There they go again.’”

    “You don’t get the public to pay attention by caving. We can’t be intimidated,” he said. “The fourth estate has a role to play. That role is we are representatives of the public -- we are supposed to ask the question to better inform the public.” 

    In an open letter to Trump, Columbia Journalism Review Editor-in-Chief Kyle Pope argued that the days of Trump trying to pit journalists against one another “are ending. We now recognize that the challenge of covering you requires that we cooperate and help one another whenever possible.” He added, “So, when you shout down or ignore a reporter at a press conference who has said something you don’t like, you’re going to face a unified front.” 

    Pope elaborated on his proposal in comments to Media Matters, writing, “Working together at press conferences could mean not asking a question until a shunned organization has had a chance to be answered; it could mean actually jointly working on stories that are beyond the capabilities of a single news organization, much like ProPublica and the NY Times do now; it definitely means calling attention to good work from our competitors that may not otherwise get adequate notice.”

    Adam Clymer, a former longtime New York Times political reporter, said press organizations need to unify and keep tabs on Trump’s anti-press treatment, recalling when the National Press Club once issued a report on President Nixon’s lack of press conferences.

    “In a public setting, a little solidarity is probably called for,” he said. “In public, they should not tolerate his picking on one person. That is intolerable.”

    Walter Shapiro, a Roll Call correspondent whose experience also includes stints at The Washington Post and Time, predicts, “It is going to be more anti-press. … It is really important for the press to stand together.”

    Media Matters president Angelo Carusone recently launched a petition on MoveOn.org calling on news organizations to stand up to Trump’s attempts to blacklist or ban critical news outlets. (As of January 19, the petition has more than 285,000 signatures.)

    Lynn Walsh, president of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), told Media Matters that her group has heard from journalists who “feel threatened” by Trump’s behavior, and they are “talking internally about how we respond.”

    She also said reporters must support each other, citing Shepard Smith of Fox News' quick defense of Acosta last week. SPJ is one of several journalism groups expected to co-sign a joint letter to Trump that raises concerns about his treatment of the press and his moves and plans to limit access, including possibly evicting journalists from the briefing room in the White House.

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) and the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) issued a joint statement of concern last week about Trump’s press treatment following a meeting of 50 such groups last week.

    It said, in part, “In discussing top priorities as the Trump administration takes shape, the group agreed that countering legal threats to reporters – such as leaks investigations, libel suits, and a disregard for the Freedom of Information Act – and promoting a public policy in support of the public’s right to know are crucial areas that require a unified response.”

    The journalists Media Matters spoke to also highlighted Trump’s regular disregard for the truth and his complex conflict-of-interest entanglements as challenges media outlets need to overcome in order to properly cover a Trump administration.

    “I think it is going to be very challenging. We have to develop new ways of getting around” attempts to limit access, said George Condon of National Journal, who has covered the White House since 1982 and served as WHCA president in 1993 and 1994. “We will see how much access we have, how the press conferences are and the daily press briefing. If something becomes a pattern, we’ll react. You have to do your job -- find out what the president is proposing, what it will cost, who it will affect.”

    During the campaign, several veteran political reporters and journalists told Media Matters that one of the main deficiencies of media coverage of then-candidate Trump was a routine failure to follow up on important investigative reporting on Trump in favor of latching onto his outrageous comment du jour.

    Steve Scully, C-SPAN senior executive producer and political editor and a former WHCA president, urged reporters to pick and choose what is important to cover and not get drawn into the outlandish story: “Don’t necessarily go for the shiny object; cover the substance. Is it harder? It is harder because he is very adept at trying to redirect the news cycle. We’ve never had somebody quite like Donald Trump in the White House. It is a whole set of new standards.”

    As Media Matters and others have noted, during the transition, outlets have routinely dropped the ball -- especially in headlines -- by parroting Trump’s spin on current events without providing necessary context.

    Lynn Walsh argued that media outlets need to be aggressive about highlighting falsehoods from the administration.

    “If he is saying something that is incorrect, we have to say that is not true,” she said. “If it is incorrect or false, we absolutely have to say that is not true. We have to be better than we’ve ever been. We have to be accurate in our reporting and don’t put information out there that is false or misleading.”

    “This is, I’m sure, going to be the most difficult administration ever to cover because of Trump, because of the internet, because of his apologists,” said Walter Mears, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press political reporter from 1956 to 2001. “I don’t think there is any question.” 

    “All you can do is listen, write down what he says, and be as aggressive as possible in finding out what’s behind it," Mears added. "He’s already demonstrated that he can misrepresent anything by simply saying his version of truth and he’s got a lot of people who will believe it.”

    Several major news outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Politico, have already announced plans to increase White House staffing, doubling it in some cases.

    David Folkenflik, NPR's media correspondent, said it's going to be “very important to follow his business entanglements and legislation. The important thing is not to let the Trump administration off the hook and keep your eye on the ball. We have not heard a full picture of Trump’s relationship with the Russians.”

    He added, “News organizations are going to have to scrutinize and disentangle some of the business relationships, his foreign entanglements, and policy decisions." Given the "combination of the lack of previous scrutiny of Trump and many of his most important figures and the skepticism to contempt he has for the roles the press plays in accountability and transparency," media will "have to be willing to forgo access in order to serve the larger job.”

  • Government Ethics And Legal Experts Pan Trump's "Prohibited" And Conflict-Ridden Plan For The Trump Organization

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Government ethics and legal experts say President-elect Donald Trump's plan to transfer oversight of his company to his sons does not go far enough to avoid serious conflicts of interest as president, and they urged journalists not to let him off the hook.

    Trump announced today at a press conference that he would transfer control of The Trump Organization to a trust controlled by his eldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, but would still retain an ownership interest in the business and receive reports on the business' finances.

    His attorney, Sheri Dillon of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, told reporters the company would also appoint an in-house ethics consultant to review future actions and cancel pending foreign deals. Still, ethics experts say the plan falls short of a clear separation from the business side.

    “It doesn’t do what everybody wanted it to do,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project On Government Oversight. “In essence, keeping an ownership interest in the business is a wrong decision. He can’t just set up firewalls between himself and his sons who are running the business and think there isn’t a conflict of interest.”

    He later added, “As the chief executive of the United States government, there will still be decisions made that can affect his business and the public needs to know that the decisions he is making are in the best interests of the public and not of his business.”

    Amey said reporters “are going to have to stay on top of what the ethics agreement is going to look like and what enforcement mechanisms are in there to prevent conflicts of interest and what monitoring is being done on the government side and with this ethics official at The Trump Organization.”

    Matthew Sanderson, a government ethics lawyer with law firm Caplin & Drysdale, called it a “mixed bag” at best.

    “There are a few laudable measures,” he said. “The cancellation of any pending deals along with the appointment of an ethics advisor, freeze on foreign deals. Those are good things.”

    “The problem is he remains conflicted,” Sanderson stressed. “He still holds an ownership interest in The Trump Organization, which means his net worth will increase with any favorable government decisions. The fact that he is now letting someone else do the work, the management, does not change the fact that he will still benefit. … He’s still in the position of being a conflicted president and open to the accusation that he is monetizing the presidency.”

    Kathleen Clark, a Washington University School of Law professor and government ethics expert, said Trump needs to “remove not just his management activities, but remove himself from having a financial interest in the firm. He’s retaining a financial interest in the company -- that hasn’t changed.

    “He’ll still be financially benefiting from them. I didn’t see any indication that he is giving up an ownership interest at all.”

    She added: “There is the conflict of interest concern, an ethical concern even though the Congress has exempted the president from the conflict. But he will be in a position where he can use government office to enrich The Trump Organization and enrich himself.”

    She also cited the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution that bars federal officeholders from profiting from foreign governments or their agents: “The problem is that The Trump Organization and Donald Trump will receive and he will receive money from foreign governments, that is what’s prohibited. He says he will donate the profits, the Emoluments Clause is concerned with payments, not just profits. Who gets to define what the profits are?”

    Violating the Emoluments Clause is an impeachable offense. And according to legal experts, barring a full divestment from his business dealings with foreign governments, Trump will be in violation of this clause the moment he is inaugurated as president.

    On Twitter, Laurence Tribe, Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard University, argued that “Trump's workaround is a totally fraudulent runaround.” He added that the plan is “cleverly designed to dazzle and deceive, but it solves none of the serious ethical or legal issues.”

  • Experts: Reporters Should Demand Proof That Trump And His Family Have Severed Ties With Their Business

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Government ethics experts say President-elect Donald Trump needs to divest himself completely of his business holdings to avoid any conflict of interest, and that he should give reporters legal documentation of his plan when he unveils it in two weeks.

    The president-elect has recently faced heavy criticism over a vast array of potential conflicts of interest between his business empire and his upcoming administration.

    On Wednesday, Trump issued a series of tweets announcing a “major news conference” with his children in which he will “discuss the fact that [he] will be leaving” his business “in total.” Trump claimed that while he was not legally “mandated” to make this move, he felt it “is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.”

    Many major media outlets responded to Trump’s announcement with headlines parroting Trump’s suggestion that he will be completely cutting ties to focus on the presidency and avoid conflicts.

    But legal experts tell Media Matters that Trump’s vague announcement does little to address the potential conflicts, and any plan short of Trump completely selling his interests will leave the window open for an ethical mess. They also point out that Trump simply claiming to be separate from the business but leaving his children in charge is another major ethical red flag.

    Geoffrey Hazard, professor of law and a government ethics expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and University of California Hastings Law School in San Francisco, said the president-elect should sell all of his business holdings: “Get it as far away from your personal control as you can. Legally, it is not too complicated.”

    Hazard said the Trump children should "clearly not" be given control of the organization "because they are still his children. They can communicate with each other by nods and winks and they will.”

    “He ought to be able to point to a set of legal documents and say about them, ‘Here’s what we’ve done,'” Hazard added. “He ought to turn over a stack of papers that [journalists] could give to their legal people to look at.”

    Stephen Gillers, New York University Law School professor of legal ethics, also said complete divestiture is needed.

    “To really cut the concerns he has to sell all of his interests in all of the Trump properties,” Gillers said. “The conflict concern is those might influence his decisions as president. He has to have no financial interest in the profit or loss of any of the Trump enterprises. Give no reason to question whether he made a decision because it’s good for the business.”

    Gillers suggested reporters should directly ask Trump on December 15, “Will you divest yourself of any financial interest of any properties of Trump Enterprises? And if you don’t, how will we know that the decisions as president have not been influenced by business considerations?”

    “To divest himself will require a lot of lawyering,” Gillers said. “It will not be easy but it can be done and proof of that should be made available to the public.”

    (An illustration of one of the many potential conflicts of interest looming for the Trump administration, via The New York Times.)

    Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, MO, said his tweets do not detail how far he will remove himself from the businesses. She said that needs to be asked by the press.

    “That addresses whether he will focus on the presidency, but that does not address in any way the initial conflicts he has through his ownership interests,” she said of his tweets. “He needs to divest from his business interest. It means to sell it -- that’s the only way that he can move forward in the government without people reasonably being concerned that his government decisions are motivated by his personal financial interests.”

    As for reporters seeking answers, she said they “need to see the documents, we all need to see the documents because Mr. Trump has a habit of saying two things that are mutually exclusive and he does them at the same time. The focus has to be on whether he has actually divested or not.”

    Richard Painter, a former ethics attorney for the George W. Bush White House, said via email that any separation from The Trump Organization “is not enough unless he is going to sell the businesses.”

    Painter followed that with a long list of potential conflicts that could arise otherwise. Those include:

    “Payments from foreign governments that violate the Emoluments Clause (foreign diplomats staying in hotels, parties thrown by foreign governments in hotels, loans from the Bank of China, rent paid by foreign governments and companies controlled by foreign governments in office buildings, etc.); appearances of quid pro quo (bribery, solicitation of a bribe or offering a bribe) every time ANYBODY working for either the government or the Trump business organization talks about both government business and Trump organization business in the same conversations or even with the same people; and litigation risk.”

    “Under the Jones v. Clinton case the President can be sued in his personal capacity and presumably also can be required to testify in other lawsuits,” Painter explained. “If Trump owns the businesses it will be a lot easier for plaintiffs lawyers to sue him personally and even if they do not to require his testimony, than it would be if he sell the businesses.”

    He said reporters need to ask, “Is he going to divest and if not how is he going to deal with these problems that I mention?”