Ethics

Issues ››› Ethics
  • Trump Administration Continues Its Blackout Of CNN

    Blog ››› ››› CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    The Trump administration’s blacklisting of CNN has continued into a second week with a refusal to send a representative to appear on CNN’s Sunday political talk show, State of the Union, while booking appearances on the four other major Sunday political shows.

    On the January 29 edition of State of the Union, host Jake Tapper reported that CNN “invited the Trump White House to offer us a guest who could provide some clarity and explanation” for Trump’s executive order limiting travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries, but the administration “declined our invitation.” Members of the administration did appear on the other major Sunday political talk shows. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and CBS’ Face the Nation. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway appeared on Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday. And White House press secretary Sean Spicer appeared on ABC’s This Week.

    The administration also declined to send a representative to State of the Union last week, while sending representatives to all the other major Sunday shows. A Media Matters review of Nexis transcripts for CNN programs over the past week also found that no senior members of the administration appeared during any weekday programs -- although CNN does employ a number of paid Trump supporters who appear regularly and parrot the administration's talking points.

    This apparent blackout is yet another illustration of Trump’s escalating war on CNN. Trump has repeatedly referred to CNN as "fake news," refused to take a question from CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta at a press conference (Spicer admitted to threatening to have Acosta removed from the press conference), and called anchor of CNN Tonight Don Lemon a “lightweight” and “dumb as a rock.” Trump ally Newt Gingrich has admitted that “Trump is deliberately trying to shrink and isolate CNN.”

    More broadly, Trump and his administration have been engaged in an unprecedented war on the press, which began during his presidential campaign and continued into the transition period and his presidency.

    UPDATE: On January 31, Politico quoted a White House official admitting to a “ban” of CNN by the Trump administration. The official claimed “the ban is not permanent,” but gave no details on why the ban was put in place or when it may be lifted.

    For more on Trump’s attacks on the press, check out Media Matters’ First Amendment Watch.

  • Trump Reportedly Outraged That CNN Doesn't Cover Him Like Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    According to sources from New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, President Donald Trump is angry that CNN and CNN chief Jeff Zucker do not grant him the favorable type of coverage he receives from Fox News

    Trump has made it no secret his contempt for CNN, recently lambasting the network’s ratings in a January 24 tweet praising Fox’s inauguration coverage.

    Trump’s tweet comes on the heels of his January 11 attack on CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, refusing to answer the journalist’s questions and calling CNN “fake news.” After the press conference, Acosta was threatened by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who said he would remove Acosta if he treats Trump disrespectfully. The next Sunday, Trump’s team failed to appear on CNN’s Sunday news program, State of the Union, but sent representatives to MSNBC, Fox, CBS, and ABC.

    Trump also attacked the network before and immediately after the election, questioning the credibility of the network, and attacking individual journalists as dumb, lightweights, who aren’t real journalists.

    According to a report from Gabriel Sherman, Trump’s antipathy towards CNN may be personal.Sherman quoted one high-level CNN source as saying, “Trump thinks just because he’s known Jeff that CNN should be covering him like Fox News does”:

    According to people close to both sides, Trump has told White House staffers that he feels personally betrayed by CNN chief Jeff Zucker.

    Trump complains that Zucker should be programming CNN more favorably toward him because of their long relationship, which can be traced back to 2004 when Zucker put The Apprentice on NBC. Trump has also said to White House staffers that Zucker owes him because Trump helped get him the job at CNN.

    According to CNN sources, Trump’s claim that he assisted Zucker in landing the top job at the network is false. Trump seems to have gotten the idea because he praised Zucker to Turner Broadcasting’s then-CEO Phil Kent at a charity dinner in the fall of 2012, a few months before CNN hired Zucker. But CNN sources say Turner had already decided to hire Zucker by that point. “This is entirely personal,” one CNN high-level source said. “Trump thinks just because he’s known Jeff that CNN should be covering him like Fox News does.”

  • Here Are The Pro-Trump Propaganda Outlets Promoting Trump Administration Lies About Inauguration Crowd Size

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Following demonstrably false statements made by President Trump and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that Trump's inauguration ceremony had “the largest audience to witness an inauguration," pro-Trump propaganda outlets amplified the lies while more mainstream conservative figures provided cover for the lies by casting doubt on available evidence.

  • Media Should Report That President Trump Is Violating The Constitution -- And It's An Impeachable Offense

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    According to experts, President Donald Trump’s continued ownership interest in the Trump Organization means that he is in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from personally benefiting from actions taken by foreign governments and their agents. Will media hold Trump accountable for this impeachable offense or will they normalize his flagrant violation of the supreme law of the land?

  • 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.”

  • Ethics Clearances For Trump's Nominees Won't Be Completed Before Hearings, Most Sunday Shows Don't Care

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Most Sunday news shows gave little attention to reports detailing the Office of Government Ethics’ (OGE) concerns that it will not be able to complete background checks on all of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees in time for their confirmation hearings. Despite the confirmation hearings beginning this week, CBS’ Face the Nation was the only show to devote significant time to the story.  

  • The Media Outlets Poised To Become Trump’s Personal Propaganda Machine

    The President-Elect’s Media Allies Are Already Helping Him Control Narratives And Publicly Attack Enemies

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After the 2016 presidential election, President-elect Donald Trump is coalescing a network of supportive right-wing media outlets, including an online publication owned by his son-in-law, a supermarket tabloid, and a new 24-hour news outlet that has been described as “Trump TV.” Since the primaries, these right-wing media outlets have helped push Trump's agenda and have attacked his political opponents.

  • Fox Contributor Newt Gingrich Wants Congress To Change Ethics Laws For Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich is advocating for Congress to “change the ethics laws” for President-elect Donald Trump, rather than forcing Trump to “disentangle himself from his multibillion-dollar business to avoid conflicts of interest with his incoming administration.”

    Following Trump’s electoral victory, ethics lawyers warned that “that no president has ever come into office with such potential entanglements” as Trump, and that his proposed plan to address his potential conflicts of interests by simply turning over his business to his children “doesn’t go far enough to ensure that Trump’s presidential duties don’t clash with his money-making dealings.” In fact, ethics lawyers have cautioned about Trump’s potential conflicts of interest since September, with the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush Richard Painter calling Trump’s potential conflicts of interest “a serious problem” that is deserving of media attention.

    Now, Gingrich, a staunch Trump supporter, is calling for “a whole new approach” for Congress to address Trump’s potential conflicts of interest: “Change the ethics laws.” Gingrich also suggested that Trump could use “the power of the pardon” to get around ethics laws by saying “Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.” According to Politico:

    Newt Gingrich has a take on how Donald Trump can keep from running afoul of U.S. ethics laws: Change the ethics laws.

    Trump is currently grappling with how to sufficiently disentangle himself from his multibillion-dollar business to avoid conflicts of interest with his incoming administration, and the president-elect has already pushed back a promised announcement of an ethics firewall.

    Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and one-time potential running mate for Trump, says Trump should push Congress for legislation that accounts for a billionaire businessman in the White House.

    “We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” Gingrich said Monday during an appearance on NPR’s "The Diane Rehm Show" about the president-elect’s business interests. “We’re going to have to think up a whole new approach.”

    And should someone in the Trump administration cross the line, Gingrich has a potential answer for that too.

    “In the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon,” Gingrich said. “It’s a totally open power. He could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period. Technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

    [...]

    Gingrich — who says he is not joining Trump's administration — didn’t provide many details for what a new approach would entail, other than reiterating his support for an outside panel of experts Trump should convene that would regularly monitor how his company and government are operating and “offer warnings if they get too close to the edge.”

  • Sunday Shows Largely Ignore NC GOP's "Unprecedented Power Grab”

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Sunday morning political shows almost entirely ignored the unprecedented move by North Carolina Republicans to significantly limit the executive powers of the incoming Democratic governor.

    On December 14, Republicans in the North Carolina state legislature launched a three-day special session for the sole purpose of introducing “a flurry of bills … to undermine [incoming Democratic Governor Roy] Cooper by stripping him of his ability to make key appointments to state and local boards and mandating, for the first time, legislative approval of his cabinet,” The New York Times reported. The Times added that the “significant shackling of the governor’s authority” may result in lawsuits from the incoming administration against the state legislature.

    CNN.com reported that the Republican legislature's "unprecedented power grab" includes legislation to “block Cooper from appointing any members to the state Board of Education and to the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina system,” and to slow lawsuits from reaching the majority Democratic-appointed state Supreme Court. The legislation also will revert to a partisan election process for filling vacancies at appellate level state courts.

    Despite North Carolina Republicans’ “brazen bid for permanent power,” the Sunday morning political shows of December 18 all but ignored their unprecedented actions. A Media Matters review of ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s State of the Union, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday found that only Meet the Press discussed the situation in one brief segment that lasted less than three minutes.

    Host Chuck Todd opened a discussion on Meet the Press about the events in North Carolina by describing them as “perfectly legal” due to Republicans’ “veto-proof majority.” (In fact, a legal challenge against North Carolina Republicans’ actions may be looming.) The segment also featured misinformation from CNBC’s Rick Santelli, a right-wing commentator sometimes credited for “launching the tea party movement,” who bizarrely transformed a story about a state political party’s power grab into a complaint that “the federal government gets too much control in various states.”

    Other national and internet media outlets have given this story the detailed reporting and thoughtful analysis it demands. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote that the “last-minute power grab marks an alarming departure from basic democratic norms” and is “a blatant attempt to overturn the results of an election by curtailing judicial independence and restructuring the government to seize authority lawfully delegated to the incoming Democratic governor.” The New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards excoriated North Carolina Republicans’ "novel strategy to subvert the will of the voters" in a “graceless power grab.” And as elections law expert Rick Hasen explained, some of the measures are so extreme that they could spur “potential Voting Rights Act and federal constitutional challenges” on the basis that “the legislature would potentially be diluting minority voting power and making minority voters worse off."

    Nonetheless, Sunday shows appear to be following the poor example set by broadcast news shows, which Media Matters previously found completely ignored the story for several days.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Snapstream and iQ Media for mentions of “North Carolina” on the December 18 editions of CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday.

  • Fox News Is Where Hopefuls Are Auditioning For Trump's Cabinet

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Fox News gave its contributors Pete Hegseth and Scott Brown platforms to publicly audition to be President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of veterans affairs, a position for which they are both reportedly being considered.

    On the December 16 edition of Fox & Friends, Hegseth answered viewers' questions about veterans' issues and explained his vision for the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). The hosts openly acknowledged Hegseth’s possible pick as VA secretary, and he acted as if the segment were an audition for the role, answering questions sent to the show, such as, “How will the VA combat corruption and avoid awarding bonuses to executives who do not meet targeted objectives?” and, “What will you do about the corrupt unions that continue to play politics and use intimidation tactics to keep all corruption issues quiet?” In addition to pushing for firing certain VA officials and allowing the use of private doctors, he bragged that the VA union disliked him because “we've been taking them on for years.” Hegseth discussed his meetings with Trump and lauded the president-elect for being “willing to fight back” and said he will be “an amazing president.”

    The same day, Brown appeared on America’s Newsroom, where he also acknowledged he was “in the mix” for the VA position and was asked by co-host Bill Hemmer “what [his] big sales point” was to Trump about why he deserved the position. Brown said he had “political” and “media experience” and pushed for fixing “mismanagement” at the VA. He also praised Trump’s “plain talk” and his “positive” message.

    Hegseth and Brown are reportedly top contenders to be Trump’s VA secretary, and have met with Trump multiple times to discuss the position. According to The New York Times, veterans groups have strongly opposed Hegseth and Brown. The groups told the Times that their opposition to Hegseth stems from his work with “Republican-funded activist groups and think tanks that have portrayed veterans health care as feckless and corrupt,” including the right-wing group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) where he served as CEO. The group, which is backed by the Koch brothers and supports the privatization of the VA, has been criticized for its “partisan attacks” against Democrats. Hegseth was also criticized by veterans groups for his position that veterans should have “the choice to seek care in the private sector,” which those groups said could “siphon billions of dollars away from veterans hospitals, causing the system to collapse.”

    Joe Chenelly, the executive director of the advocacy group Amvets, told the Times that Brown “lacks the experience to run a nationwide health care and benefits system with 350,000 employees.” Brown, a former Republican senator, has used Fox multiple times previously as a platform to criticize the VA and the Obama administration’s promise to help veterans.

    If picked to head the VA, Hegseth or Brown would join the multiple Fox personalities who have joined or are being considered for the incoming Trump administration.