Katie Sullivan

Author ››› Katie Sullivan
  • Glenn Beck Blames Media Matters For Advertiser "Purge" Of Serial Sexual Harasser Bill O'Reilly

    Beck Attacks Advertiser Boycotts While Simultaneously Claiming The Boycotters Never Even Advertised On O'Reilly's Show

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    Almost six years after former Fox News host Glenn Beck insisted that Media Matters had nothing to do with the decline in his show’s advertising and its eventual termination, he went on his radio program to blame Media Matters for Fox dropping host Bill O'Reilly. A recent report revealed that O'Reilly and Fox News have paid $13 million in settlements for sexual harassment, sparking an advertiser boycott of his show and leading to his ouster from the channel.

    Beck devoted much of his April 19 radio show to calling on his listeners to help save O’Reilly after news broke that the board of directors of 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, would be meeting to decide O’Reilly’s fate. Just a few hours later, 21st Century confirmed that “Mr. O’Reilly will not return to the Fox News Channel.” O’Reilly’s advertisers largely abandoned his show after The New York Times reported on the settlements, and it appears that some advertisers are gearing up to drop Fox entirely. These advertisers are rejecting the hostile and predatory corporate environment Fox has created and allowed to fester for over a decade and are recognizing the liability that associating with such behavior presents for them.

    Beck’s own show, which aired on Fox News from 2009 to 2011, was terminated after a decline in revenue, ratings, and relevance. An advertiser boycott led by Media Matters President Angelo Carusone resulted in more than 300 advertisers pulling their ads from Beck’s program after he called former President Barack Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred for white people." In February 2010, the broadcast of Beck's show in the UK lost all advertisers and began airing without any commercials. Fox saw a decline in both the number of paid advertisements running during Beck's show and, according to industry data, in what key advertisers would pay for an ad during his show.

    The day before Fox announced that his show was being terminated, Beck insisted that Carusone’s campaign was not responsible for his show’s decline. Today he again claimed that the advertiser boycott didn’t hurt his show because the boycotters never advertised on his show to begin with; yet he’s now making a similar argument on O’Reilly’s behalf, while simultaneously insisting that Media Matters is “behind this with Bill O’Reilly.” According to Beck, the advertisers “that are boycotting Bill O'Reilly, most of them I'm sure never ever were even on Bill O'Reilly's show,” but he told his listeners to contact Fox News nonetheless to let it know that “‘we [can’t] stand with you if you're just letting Media Matters purge people.” From the April 19 edition of The Glenn Beck Program:

    Oh, and that's right, Media Matters, who's behind this with Bill O'Reilly, they said that they believe that Fox News and Bill O'Reilly are currently the leader in conservative misinformation.

    [...]

    This is a purge, and it's going to be a hard purge. It's going to hurt. You need to decide where you are, and I recommend that if you find, just Google search list of advertisers that won't -- that are boycotting Bill O'Reilly, most of them I'm sure never ever were even on Bill O'Reilly's show. Some of them were, but you should probably write to them today and say, “If Bill O'Reilly is fired because you canceled, I will never buy your product again." You should write to Fox News Channel, “I want you to know, I'm not sure we can stand with you if you're just letting Media Matters purge people.”

    Beck also invited O’Reilly’s lawyer to offer a defense of the Fox host on the program.

  • Bill O’Reilly Is A Sexual Predator And Fox News Is A Hostile Work Environment. Advertisers Are Fleeing Because That’s A Liability.

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    A New York Times report revealed that $13 million has been paid in settlements to avoid sexual harassment lawsuits against Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, causing advertisers to flee his program. As Media Matters president Angelo Carusone has explained, the issue at hand is one of serious predatory sexual harassment and a corporation that has tolerated and enabled it while expressing no sincere interest in addressing its hostile work environment. Fox will suffer financially from the loss of advertisers in the long term, as the ad rates for O’Reilly’s show will almost certainly never recover, but the problem extends beyond O’Reilly; Fox News as a whole is a liability for advertisers.

    On April 1, The New York Times reported that five women had received payments totaling nearly $13 million from either O’Reilly or Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox “in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their” reports of sexual harassment involving O’Reilly. The women described their experiences of “verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating.” Two days after the Times article was published, Mercedes-Benz announced that it would no longer advertise during The O’Reilly Factor, calling the report “disturbing” and stating that, “Given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.” Since then, at least 70 of O’Reilly’s advertisers have stated that they are pulling their ads from his show, and those are just the ones who have made public statements.

    The advertisers fleeing from O’Reilly are rejecting the hostile and predatory corporate environment Fox has created and allowed to fester for over a decade and are recognizing the liability that associating with such behavior presents for them. The boycott is not a suppression of free speech, and the women who have told their stories are not describing controversial behavior; they are describing predatory and potentially criminal acts, a distinction Media Matters president Angelo Carusone explained in an interview with business magazine Fast Company:

    [Carusone] points out that O’Reilly’s issue is not one of free speech but rather of behavior. The charges against him, other Fox colleagues, and Fox itself are serious and mounting. “Sexual harassment is a really big fucking problem in this country,” says Carusone. “I do think it matters if you have corporate leaders standing up and saying, hey, this is an issue that we think is a super-big third rail, and so even if you give a whiff of this, we’re not going to go anywhere near it.”

    [...]

    Carusone and others try to draw a line by saying that the trigger for action is a pattern of prejudice or bullying behavior, not merely disagreeable opinions. “We never want to silence somebody, but we don’t want to make it profitable to be involved in sexual harassment,” says the Sleeping Giants spokesman. Carusone agrees, adding that “it’s playing with fire” to use corporate influence as a tool to punish journalists. “But I also don’t think you should be rewarded for being a total bully.”

    And as Carusone told Politico:

    “This is not based off of an outrage moment, but rather, it’s responsive to a deep pattern of sexual harassment,” Carusone said. “It doesn’t have a political partisan lens, the way maybe a comment around an individual would have or a statement that some people may find outrageous and others may not. This is about behavior that is universally wrong.”

    The mounting number of advertisers who have already removed their ads from O’Reilly’s show is only the initial problem for Fox; previous advertiser boycott campaigns indicate that O’Reilly’s ad rates will suffer permanently, making him less profitable for Fox News in the long term. In 2009, Carusone initiated a campaign against former Fox host Glenn Beck in response to his venomous, vitriolic manner and his bullying behavior. Advertisers abandoned Beck’s show as he spouted insurrectionist rhetoric and previewed how unhinged the right-wing would become under President Barack Obama. His ad rates never recovered.

    Carusone explained to Cheddar News, “For over a year, [Fox News] absorbed the losses that Glenn Beck cost them, but when they finally fired him they -- and Fox News said it themselves if you go back and look at the statements there -- if you have a television show and you have advertiser problems, you no longer have a television show that is viable.”

    Additionally, Carusone told The New Yorker, “‘When you create critical mass, even if other ads are still running, they just won’t pay the same. … At worst, even if Bill O’Reilly stays on the air until he’s ready to leave, his advertising rates will diminish. And the more advertisers that leave, the more that will be affected. It’s market forces.’”

    Carusone’s point was illustrated by a similar campaign against talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who became toxic for advertisers after his days-long sexist meltdown over Sandra Fluke in 2012. Limbaugh’s show has been demoted in major media markets and he was evidently forced to take a sizable pay cut when he renegotiated his contract last year.

    Advertisers now need to ask themselves whether abandoning just O’Reilly is enough. On April 4, Carusone released a statement that asked whether the Fox host’s advertisers were comfortable associating their brands with a serial sexual harasser  and an organization that has fundamentally mishandled the reports, revealing a culture of silence and complacency around sexual harassment at Fox News:

    On the latter, it’s already clear that Fox News has grossly mishandled these allegations as well as the deeper culture of harassment and abuse there. Instead of putting a stop to sexual harassment, they appear to have worked to sweep it under the rug. And there is zero indication that Fox News intends on changing their approach.

    On the former, this should be a no-brainer. The mere fact that a company would even hesitate about whether it’s appropriate to associate with serial sexual harassment is a reflection not only of those companies’ values, but just how deep of an issue this is in our society.

    Sexual harassment is a problem in society at large, not unique to just O’Reilly or Fox. According to a 2015 survey, one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 has been sexually harassed at work. Additionally, according to the survey, of those who had “experienced workplace sexual harassment, 29 percent reported the issue while 71 percent did not.”

    And the reports about O’Reilly’s behavior are just the latest example of Fox News’ rampant culture of sexual harassment that seems to be a feature, not a bug. A decade of lawsuits, reports of sexual harassment, and settlements shows a clear a pattern of corporate retaliation, victim-blaming, and million dollar payouts for silence that simultaneously protect and defend the network's premier names and executives. Fox’s former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes was forced out last summer after multiple reports of sexual harassment and a lawsuit that was ultimately settled for $20 million. Fox News co-presidents Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy have both been reported for participating in Fox’s culture of silence when it comes to sexual harassment. New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported that Shine and other executives were not only aware of Ailes’ reported sexual harassment of Fox News employees, but were also actively involved in helping Ailes “cover up” his actions.

    Despite claiming to investigate and take seriously this culture of rampant sexual harassment, the network chose to renew O’Reilly’s contract last week.

  • Google Is Funding Alex Jones' Harassment And Hate On YouTube

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & KATIE SULLIVAN

    Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist radio host who is one of President Donald Trump’s media sycophants, appears to be monetizing his content as part of the YouTube Partner Program even though Infowars' content regularly violates the program’s policies and guidelines for advertising. Jones’ YouTube videos and other content feature extreme anti-LGBTQ and racist commentary, and Infowars promotes conspiracy theories that have encouraged harassment of families that lost children in the Sandy Hook massacre and led to a gunman firing shots in a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.

    The YouTube Partner Program allows content creators to “monetize content on YouTube in many ways, including advertisements, paid subscriptions, and merchandise,” as long as their content is “advertiser-friendly” and meets YouTube’s “community guidelines.” Google, which owns YouTube, recently changed its advertising policies after major European corporations and the British government raised concerns over their ads being placed next to extremist content. In response, Google wrote that it was “raising the bar for our ad policies” and that it would “tighten safeguards to ensure that ads show up only against legitimate creators in our YouTube Partner Program”:

    We know advertisers don't want their ads next to content that doesn’t align with their values. So starting today, we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content. This includes removing ads more effectively from content that is attacking or harassing people based on their race, religion, gender or similar categories. This change will enable us to take action, where appropriate, on a larger set of ads and sites.

    We’ll also tighten safeguards to ensure that ads show up only against legitimate creators in our YouTube Partner Program—as opposed to those who impersonate other channels or violate our community guidelines. Finally, we won’t stop at taking down ads. The YouTube team is taking a hard look at our existing community guidelines to determine what content is allowed on the platform—not just what content can be monetized.

    Google’s promise to better ensure that ads appear only alongside content of “legitimate creators in our YouTube Partner Program" indicates that Jones’ channel is a partner. An online post by the Houston Chronicle also explained that a YouTube partner can be identified by “look[ing] for advertisements on the user’s pages."

    Jones’ videos, which often violate YouTube’s policies for its advertising partners, frequently appear with ads for brands such as Trivago, Playstation, and a corporation that is contracted by the state of Hawaii to promote tourism. These ads appear on a targeted, automated rotating system, so they may alternate or change. 

    On March 19, Jones claimed that his website “Infowars got knocked off of Google ads through AdRoll, their subsidiary company they work with.” AdRoll -- which is actually a Google competitor, though it does use some Google technology -- did in fact cut ties with Infowars, citing violations of its policies, which require that a website’s content be accurate and verifiable and that it not have “derogatory content” about a political candidate. But it appears that Google, through YouTube, has not taken any similar action.

    YouTube’s Community Guidelines And Advertising Guidance Ban Threats And Harassment

    YouTube’s community guidelines include banning content creators -- and not just their advertising -- for threats, including “harassment, intimidation, invading privacy, revealing other people's personal information, and inciting others to commit violent acts.” Infowars is no stranger to harassment and threats. In addition, YouTube’s content guidelines, which apply to pages hosting advertisements, say that videos with “inappropriate language, including harassment, profanity and vulgar language” are “inappropriate for advertising.” Jones, including on his YouTube page, regularly makes vulgar and harassing comments, and his role in spreading conspiracy theories has helped incite others to commit threatening and violent acts.

    Jones played a crucial role in pushing the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy, which claimed that a Washington, D.C., pizzeria hid a pedophilia ring run by prominent Democratic politicians. Jones told his audience members in late November that they “have to go investigate" the conspiracy theory for themselves. Days later, a Jones listener fired his gun inside the pizzeria. After that incident, Jones scrubbed Pizzagate-related content from his YouTube page and elsewhere. In February, Jones uploaded a new video breaking down the “PizzaGate pedophile cult,” months after the shooting incident; an ad for LinkedIn appeared next to that video on March 23. On March 24, Jones apologized to the pizzeria and its owner for his attacks on them. An advertisement for TBS’ late night talk show Conan appeared before the video on March 27.

    Jones also relentlessly pushed conspiracies about the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 children and six adults were murdered during a shooting at an elementary school. Jones has attacked the families of the victims as “actors” who helped pull off a “hoax,” and family members have said that they have repeatedly faced harassment and threats and have criticized Jones for his smears. On March 23, an advertisement for FedEx appeared on a video exploring “false narratives vs. the reality” of Sandy Hook, and an ad for PNC showed up on another video alleging that Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Wolfgang Halbig was “stonewalled and threatened” as he investigated the massacre.

    Jones has made other threatening and violent comments. In a now-deleted YouTube video, Jones told conservative Washington Post columnist George Will to “put a .357 Magnum to your head, and blow what little is left of your brains out all over yourself.” Jones also asserted that Will is a “constitutional rapist” who is “literally mounting America, raping it in the ass, and telling us how great he is.”

    Jones also recently challenged actor Alec Baldwin to a “bare knuckle” fight, saying, “I will break your jaw, I will knock your teeth out, I will break your nose, and I will break your neck.” During the 2016 Democratic primary, Jones suggested that supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) needed to have their "jaws broken" and their "moron heads" slapped (following criticism, Jones claimed he was speaking only “figuratively” about breaking their jaws).

    YouTube Already Pulled A High-Profile User From Its Advertising Platform For Content Violating The Guidance On “Controversial Or Sensitive Subjects”

    YouTube’s advertising guidelines also note that content “is considered inappropriate for advertising” when it includes “controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown.”

    Jones has made his name weighing in on controversial subjects and spreading conspiracy theories. He is an ardent 9/11 truther who calls the attacks an “inside job.” He has also spread conspiracy theories about the Oklahoma City bombing, Boston Marathon bombing, a number of mass shootings, and vaccinations. A Google AdChoices advertisement appeared next to a video calling 9/11 a “false flag”

    Jones has also made numerous disparaging comments about LGBTQ people. After more than 40 people were killed at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, FL, Jones charged “the LGBT community in general with endangering America and with the blood of these 50-plus innocent men and women.” Many of Jones’ comments about the attack were uploaded to his YouTube channel. Jones also once claimed that the U.S. government is trying to “encourage homosexuality with chemicals so that people don’t have children,” adding that being gay is a “destructive lifestyle.” A static in-video advertisement and, separately, an advertisement for Wix.com appeared in a March 16 YouTube video on Jones’ page during which Infowars guest host Anthony Cumia mocked a 15-year-old transgender girl and compared her decision to transition to children deciding they want “to be a dinosaur.”

    A sponsored Funny or Die video appeared before one of Jones’ YouTube videos in which he lamented the introduction of an autistic muppet to Sesame Street and pushed the dangerous, debunked myth that vaccines cause autism by claiming “it burns out their pancreas. It burns out their brain.” The video and the video’s summary asserted that the character’s inclusion was “an effort to normalize the epidemic of childhood mental disorders.”

    Jones also frequently makes controversial comments on race and gender, such as when he went on a racist rant against former President Barack Obama on his YouTube channel, saying he was “elected on affirmative action” and “ain’t black, in my opinion.” Jones also accused Obama of having “some big old donkey dick hard-on.”

    Jones has made other vulgar comments about politicians and their families, particularly about women. These statements include calling Obama’s mother a “sex operative” for the CIA on his radio show and calling Hillary Clinton a “lying whore” on his YouTube channel. He has also said that Chelsea Clinton looks like Mister Ed the Horse and made numerous other sexist comments about women and their looks.

    Removing Jones’ channel from the YouTube Partner Program would hardly be unprecedented. The Independent reported in February that YouTube removed user “PewDiePie from its advertising platform after anti-Semitic videos were posted to his account.” PewDiePie has more than 53 million subscribers and has been called “by far YouTube’s biggest star.” The report noted that the videos could no longer “be monetised because they are in violation of YouTube’s ‘advertiser-friendly content guidelines’, which are stricter than the normal guidelines.” The report added that YouTube’s community guidelines “include restrictions on hate speech”:

    The videos are no longer allowed to be monetised because they are in violation of YouTube's "advertiser-friendly content guidelines", which are stricter than the normal guidelines and require that people cannot feature "controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown".

    But they are still available to view on the site, where they were posted in January.

    Google requires that all videos uploaded to the site comply with its community guidelines, which include restrictions on hate speech. The guidelines specifically note that YouTube will consider the "intent of the uploader", and that videos may stay online if they are "intended to be humorous or satirical", "even if offensive or in poor taste".

    It would appear to be consistent with YouTube’s existing policies to pull advertising from Jones’ videos. If YouTube fails to take action, advertisers can request to have their ads removed from videos appearing on Jones’ channel; Google has pledged to implement “account-level controls to make it easier for advertisers to exclude specific sites and channels.”

  • AdRoll Cuts Ties With Infowars, But Google’s YouTube Still Driving Revenue For Alex Jones

    ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    Conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones claimed that his site, Infowars, was “knocked off of Google Ads” by a Google “subsidiary.” But the advertising company that cut ties with Infowars, AdRoll, is not a Google subsidiary, and Google does in fact place ads on Infowars’ YouTube video pages, generating revenue for Jones’ site. In suspending Infowars, AdRoll cited violations of its policies, which require that content be accurate and verifiable and that content about political campaigns focus on the merits of a candidate, rather than being “derogatory.”

  • Trump Retweets Flawed Fox Segment Stoking Fear About Religious Visas

    ››› ››› NINA MAST & KATIE SULLIVAN

    President Donald Trump retweeted a segment from Fox News’ Fox & Friends that claimed “jihadis [are] using religious visa to enter US” just days after two federal judges temporarily halted his second attempt at a travel ban targeting a list of majority-Muslim countries. However, the Foxnews.com article the Fox & Friends segment was based on named no incidents of terrorism in the U.S. linked to Muslims here on the R-1 visa for religious workers, and a Media Matters search also found no such reports of terrorism linked to R-1 visas within the last ten years.

  • Media Outlets Mention Trump's International Women's Day Tweet, Ignore Allegations Of Sexual Assault Against Him

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & KATIE SULLIVAN

    On International Women’s Day, cable hosts on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox Business Network reported on President Donald Trump’s tweet stating that he has “tremendous respect for women” without mentioning that at least 17 women have accused him of sexual assault or harassment.

    On the morning of March 8, Trump tweeted, “I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy.” He followed that up with a second tweet, writing, “On International Women's Day, join me in honoring the critical role of women here in America & around the world.” At least nine cable news shows reported on Trump’s tweet between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m.: CNN’s New Day, At This Hour, Inside Politics, and Wolf; MSNBC’s Morning Joe, MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, the 11 a.m. hour of MSNBC Live hosted by Ali Velshi, and Andrew Mitchell Reports; and Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria Bartiromo. None of the nine shows mentioned that 17 women have come forward alleging Trump sexually assaulted or harassed them. In fact, no news program on any cable or broadcast network mentioned the accusations at all, according to a Media Matters search.

    In addition to the actual accusations, Trump himself was recorded in 2005 bragging to an Access Hollywood host about sexual assault.  

    While no show that reported on Trump’s tweet mentioned the accusations of sexual misconduct against him -- or that he responded to them with personal attacks, calling one a “horrible woman” and insulting another's’ looks -- The Atlantic’s Molly Ball said on CNN, “we should give him credit for not making a provocation and causing a whole controversy.” Ball claimed that, “because this women's movement has been so focused on opposition to Trump, it has, I think, become much more of a politically polarized occasion,” adding that it was “commendable” for “Trump to rise above it.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for coverage between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. on March 8 of Trump’s tweet using the terms "Trump" and "women” as well as "Trump" and "tweet.” Media Matters searched SnapStream for coverage of the sexual assault allegations against Trump using the terms “grab" or "assault."

  • NBC News Is Struggling To Report On Its Own Trump Problem

    NBC's Financial Relationship With The President-Elect Puts Its Reporters In An Impossible Situation

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    NBC and its parent company, Comcast/NBCUniversal, have put the network’s news division in an impossible situation by entering into a financial agreement with the next president of the United States. As NBC News reporters grapple with the announcement that President-elect Donald Trump will remain an executive producer on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, many aren't discussing the intolerable conflicts of interest this business arrangement poses to NBC. In this deal, NBC will have a fiduciary relationship with the president, making it financially invested in Trump’s reputation -- a situation that threatens to compromise the news division’s political reporting. The arrangement is now providing a case study in how conflicts of interest affect the quality and the integrity of reporting.

    Variety reported on December 8 that Trump will stay on as an executive producer of Celebrity Apprentice. As Media Matters pointed out, because of the business relationship, NBC is now financially invested in Trump's reputation and will have an incentive to weigh aggressive reporting about Trump across its news platforms against what the network mighty lose in revenue if Trump's reputation is damaged. The arrangement implicates NBC News, CNBC, and MSNBC.

    NBC News’ reports on the announcement have generally presented the conflict as a possible problem for Trump, but not for NBC -- and that’s when the network reports on the deal at all. NBC’s flagship Sunday political show, Meet the Press, failed to address the story entirely on the December 11 edition. Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, who also anchors the weekday program Meet the Press Daily, said on December 8 that Trump being “connected to The Apprentice is not news to the American public.” NBC correspondents Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander both characterized the deal as a conflict for Trump, while downplaying NBC’s own conflict. Welker noted that there is “new scrutiny of the president-elect's decision to stay on as executive producer of The Apprentice,” referring to the deal as “Trump’s business entanglements,” and adding, “NBC Entertainment declined to comment, noting MGM owns and produces the show.” Joe Kernen, host of CNBC’s Squawk Box, told a critic, “Don’t bring it to your conflict thing again.” MSNBC’s Ari Melber argued that Trump remaining an executive producer isn’t a conflict, “it’s just … weird,” and made a point of saying that “NBC Entertainment is a separate division of our company” from NBC News.

    MSNBC reporters have also tried to compare Trump’s deal with NBC to Obama receiving royalties for his books. But, as The Associated Press explained, Obama’s “books’ publishers are not financially tied to news divisions.”

    By contrast, other media outlets have noted NBC’s numerous conflicts in this arrangement. On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked incoming Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus: “The FCC regulates NBC corporate. Corporations could try to curry favor with the president by placing their products on the show, buying advertising. Isn't that an issue?” CNN’s Dylan Byers explained that the business relationship “presents a thorny situation for Comcast/NBCUniversal, which controls the [product integration] deals” that companies make with Celebrity Apprentice, which, according to Byers, often range from $5 million to $9 million. Trump personally profits from those deals, making NBC the middleman through which companies can “curry favor” with the president. And Fortune magazine noted that NBC was already criticized in October “for reportedly sitting on the Access Hollywood footage from 2005 that showed Trump boasting about committing sexual assault,” which the network reportedly withheld due to “fear of spurring yet another lawsuit from Trump.”

    Media and ethics experts have also pointed out the untenable situation NBC has created for itself. Marcy McGinnis, a former CBS News executive and journalism professor, called the arrangement “mind-boggling” and said it’s “a clear conflict of interest” to have a company “that has a news division …. covering the president of the United States” when he “has an interest in a show on that network.” Aly Colon, a journalism ethics expert, noted people’s desire to “believe in an independent news division not affected by business ties,” saying, “A lot of people find it difficult to believe there is a wall between news and entertainment.” And NPR’s David Folkenflik pointed out that, as president, Trump will be appointing the regulators tasked with scrutinizing the media, which NBC has an obvious interest in. Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert explained on MSNBC’s AM Joy that “No amount of disclosure is enough here. Is NBC for the next four years, every time they report on Trump, [going to] say, ‘By the way, our parent company has a financial relationship with Donald Trump’?” Boehlert also asked, "what if a company, in theory, says, 'Let's give The Apprentice $5 million and Trump could get a cut of that?' I mean, we're just paying off the president.”

    NBC cut ties with Trump last summer, declining to air his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants and stating that the network did not want to be associated with Trump because his bigoted statements had defied its core values. What’s unclear now is whether NBC believes Trump’s values have changed or whether the network believes such statements became acceptable with his election.

    Sign Media Matters’ petition telling NBC to dump Trump.

  • Trump Admitted He Tweets To Avoid Reporters -- Media Shouldn’t Let Him Get Away With It

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY & KATIE SULLIVAN

    On NBC’s Today, President-elect Donald Trump admitted he uses Twitter to bypass reporters, claiming it allows him to get his messages out “much more honestly.” Trump’s Twitter account is riddled with false claims, vague statements, and fake news stories, but media outlets have nevertheless treated it as a source of credible information, allowing his tweets to drive the news cycle.

    During an interview on NBC’s morning show, Today, host Matt Lauer asked Trump about his continued use of Twitter after the election, despite his promise to “be much more restrained as the president.” Trump conceded that he uses Twitter as a mechanism for bypassing the press, claiming it’s a “modern-day form of communication” that allows him to communicate his messages to the public “much faster” and “much more honestly than dealing with dishonest reporters, because so many reporters are dishonest.”

    Trump has successfully used his Twitter account to inject favorable stories into the media, such as announcing a deal he made with Carrier Corp. to keep 700 jobs from moving to Mexico. But the Carrier deal included giving $7 million in tax breaks to the private company and doesn’t prevent 1,300 other Carrier jobs from offshoring, which Trump did not discuss in his Twitter announcement. By tweeting the deal, Trump avoided follow-up questions from reporters and was not forced to address the details of the deal or how it was made -- but he did successfully drive the news cycle. CNN ran an on-screen graphic that read “Trump delivers on vow to save Carrier jobs” for part of the day.

    Similarly, Trump proposed canceling a deal with Boeing to build a new Air Force One plane for future presidents, claiming that “costs are out of control.” Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler broke down the tweet, noting that “Trump is not a stickler for accuracy, but there are number of inaccuracies in his tweet.” Trump has also tweeted fake news stories, including that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” That claim was based on an evidence-free claim from a Twitter user that was picked up by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

    Trump has sought to turn his Twitter feed into one of only a few sources of information for the media on him and his transition. His war on the press began during his campaign and has continued into his transition to the presidency. He has not held a press conference since July (he announced a news conference scheduled for December 15, but has not said whether he will take questions from reporters); has continued to harangue the media at campaign-style rallies during his “victory tour”; and has on more than one occasion ditched his protective pool, which is supposed to follow him in order to, among other functions, be on the scene to report in case of major events. At the same time, he and his team have repeatedly refused to answer questions about his and his family’s questionable international business dealings and interactions with foreign leaders, forcing the American press to rely on foreign media for details surrounding Trump’s meetings and calls with foreign leaders.

    He recently responded to criticism of his antagonistic attitude toward the media on Twitter, claiming that “if the press would cover me accurately [and] honorably, I would have far less reason to ‘tweet.’” But some media experts have suggested Trump’s attacks on the media are not actually driven by a desire to spread honest information, but rather are a concerted effort to discredit the media in order to “inoculate” himself from reporting that could be damaging. On CNN’s Reliable Sources, former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey argued that Trump used “demagogic techniques” that “smack of authoritarianism” during the campaign because “the media poses a real threat to him”:

    JOHN HUEY: Well, I've seen a continuation of what he's been doing since the very beginning. And the last time I spoke to you, I was stressing the concept of a demagogue and the classic techniques of a demagogue. And one of those is, you have to have a scapegoat, you have to create the idea that someone out there is the enemy. And he started out with Mexicans, he moved on to Muslims, and sometime in the middle of the summer, he really started to focus on the media. And you were one of the first people to pick up on that, and also the election rigging. The media was part of the election rigging. So, these are demagogic techniques, and you can look at them very seriously because they do smack of authoritarianism.

    […]

    One other point, quickly, the reason he has settled on the media over the Mexicans and the Muslims is, the media poses a real threat to him. The media are the people who investigate his charitable giving. They're the ones who look at what we can learn about his tax returns. They're the people who cover the fraud trial of Trump University. So it's very much in his interest to discredit the messenger for those messages.

    Trump’s admission that he uses Twitter to bypass reporters and the media should indicate to the press that they cannot simply report on his tweets without providing proper context or fact-checking. The current compulsion to do so often results in the wholesale repetition of his claims, even when they are inaccurate. 

  • Morning Joe Hosts, After Carrying Water For Trump And Meeting Him Privately, Aghast That Anyone Questions Their Impartiality

    ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, co-hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, have met privately with Donald Trump while Scarborough is reportedly advising the president-elect, yet both still reject media criticism of their overly positive coverage of the former reality show celebrity. On the November 29 edition of Morning Joe alone, the hosts carried water for President-elect Trump on five separate topics, including criticizing journalists for scrutinizing his extensive conflicts of interest and reporting on Pro-Trump “fake news.”

  • Trump’s Ongoing Contempt For The Press Requires Journalists To Step Up

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    Journalists and news organizations are facing an unprecedented level of hostility from President-elect Donald Trump as he attempts to establish a status quo for his presidency of limited press access and only coverage that he deems "fair." Trump has dodged questions from media across the political spectrum about his conflicts of interest, and his limited interactions with the media since the election have been used primarily to scold the press for what he perceives to be negative reporting.

    So far during his transition period, Trump has violated the norms of any president or president-elect when it comes to his relations with the media. Trump has not allowed a press pool to follow him nor has he held a press conference since he was elected two weeks ago, which, according to Politico, is the "longest" such gap "of any incoming president since at least 1976.” Continuing the trend of showing disdain for the media, on November 21 Trump met with senior executives and reporters for the major TV news networks and reportedly “criticized the executives and correspondents for their election coverage” and “complained about some of the postelection coverage as well.” The president-elect canceled a scheduled meeting with The New York Times in a tweet in which he reportedly lied that the “terms and conditions of the meeting were changed at the last minute.” The Times’ Eileen Murphy responded, saying they “did not change the rules at all and made no attempt to,” but that the Trump team “tried to yesterday -- asking for only a private meeting and no on-the-record segment”:

    We were unaware that the meeting was canceled until we saw the president-elect’s tweet this morning. We did not change the ground rules at all and made no attempt to. They tried to yesterday — asking for only a private meeting and no on-the-record segment, which we refused to agree to. In the end, we concluded with them that we would go back to the original plan of a small off-the-record session and a larger on-the-record session with reporters and columnists.

    The meeting was later rescheduled and was slated to have the original conditions as laid out by the Times.

    Meanwhile, in just the last week, there have been several stories about the president-elect and his businesses that merited coverage, many of them involving his children, who will be running the Trump Organization during Trump’s presidency and are part of his transition team:

    • Trump agreed to settle a fraud lawsuit against his real estate seminar business Trump University for $25 million.
    • His daughter Ivanka was present for Trump’s meeting with the prime minister of Japan.
    • Ivanka was also included on Trump’s phone call with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, during which Trump reportedly “urged [Macri] to clear the way for a stalled office building development.” The report has since been denied by both Trump and Macri.
    • Trump met with his business partners in an Indian luxury apartment complex deal at Trump Tower in New York.
    • According to The New York Times, Trump met with Nigel Farage, a British politician who supported Trump during the campaign, and “encouraged Mr. Farage and his entourage to oppose the kind of offshore wind farms that Mr. Trump believes will mar the pristine view from one of his two Scottish golf courses.” Trump has tweeted, “Many people would like to see [Farage] represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States.”
    • The Washington Post reported that “about 100 foreign diplomats, from Brazil to Turkey, gathered at the Trump International Hotel this week to sip Trump-branded champagne, dine on sliders and hear a sales pitch about the U.S. president-elect’s newest hotel.” The article noted that venues owned by Trump offer “a chance to curry favor or access with the next president” and quoted “one Middle Eastern diplomat” who said, “Believe me, all the delegations will go there.”

    Media -- particularly broadcast news outlets -- failed to rigorously report on Trump’s conflicts of interest before the election. Now, as they scramble to catch up, they have struggled to report on Trump’s business dealings because of his refusal to give them adequate access. While several outlets have reported on his conflicts, it has become increasingly common for American journalists to rely on foreign media for details surrounding Trump’s meetings and calls with foreign leaders. Numerous stories revealing the overlapping nature of Trump’s international business dealings and his status as president-elect have come from foreign news outlets, including the pieces about Trump’s meeting with his Indian business partners and Ivanka’s inclusion in his call with the Argentine president.

    As the press struggles to get access and information, Trump and his team are attempting to frame reporting they don’t like as unfair. The Washington Post’s Mark Berman counted 13 public complaints from Trump about the media since the election. And when The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters tried to get information about the legality of Trump’s business dealings from his aide Kellyanne Conway, she responded that he was being "negative."

    Holding public officials accountable is a specific job of the media. Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz dismissed concerns that Trump’s press restrictions will continue into his presidency, but Trump’s post-campaign actions show no sign that he is willing to be anything less than hostile to the fourth estate. In the face of Trump’s opacity, journalists need to take a stand before these restrictions and behaviors are codified in his administration.