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President Donald Trump’s decision to fire U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara happened as Bharara’s office was reportedly probing Fox News over its alleged failure to inform shareholders about repeated settlements for allegations of sexual harassment and assault by former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and other executives against female employees. Reports indicate Trump may pick one of Ailes’ former lawyers to replace Bharara.
Conservative media figures can’t decide who to blame for the disastrous American Health Care Act (AHCA), which seeks to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and will endanger the health insurance of millions of Americans. Despite President Donald Trump taking credit for this effort to roll back health care reform, right-wing media figures and outlets are grappling over whether they should fault the president for “Trumpcare” or absolve him of responsibility.
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President Donald Trump’s new Muslim ban calls on the government to publish information regarding “acts of gender-based violence against women, including so-called ‘honor killings,’ in the United States by foreign nationals.” This order adopts an Islamophobic narrative pushed by conservative outlet Breitbart.com, which was overseen by Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, but reports suggest that honor killings are not at all common in the United States.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) Highlights Republican Party Civil War Over Health Care
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) doubled down on his characterization of the Republican health care proposal, the American Health Care Act, as “a stinking pile of garbage.” Massie’s criticism underscores the growing “GOP civil war” over repealing Obamacare, similar to the extensive Republican infighting over Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. From the March 9 edition of Fox News’ America’s News Headquarters:
SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): So Congressman, let's get to these words that you have used to explain how you think of this Obamacare repeal plan. Let’s see. “It's a stinking pile of garbage.” Why did you choose those words?
REP THOMAS MASSIE (R-KY): Probably because it was off the cuff and it was -- I committed candor. I said what I was thinking. This is a new entitlement program and it's just bad all around. I mean, there are a few good things about it, but we shouldn't replace one entitlement program with another. It's not a Republican conservative bill.
SMITH: OK. So it was an off the cuff remark. Is that something you're walking back at this point, to be clear?
MASSIE: No, it's still a stinking pile of garbage.
SMITH: Congressman, what sort of response are you getting to your Republican colleagues, especially using those kind of words to describe this effort?
MASSIE: Most of them appreciate my frankness. Most, for instance, of the Freedom Caucus. They feel that way, a lot of them haven't spoken that strongly about it. But behind the scenes, they’re -- the speaker's missing at least 40 of the votes that he needs to get to 218, and he can only afford to lose 24 votes. That's a problem in the House. Then in the Senate, it looks like Senator Paul and Senator Lee are strongly against this and other senators for different reasons. It seems dead on arrival in the Senate, but I don't even think it's going to get out of the House.
Hannity Has A History Of Courting WikiLeaks To Support His Trump Defenses
Following Fox host Sean Hannity's March 8 conspiracy theory that the CIA framed the Russian government for election interference, Hannity tweeted at WikiLeaks on March 9 asking them to confirm his suspicion. This tweet is just the latest example of Hannity’s increasingly far-fetched attempts to defend President Donald Trump against any and all Russia-related allegations follows his months-long courting of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
On March 9, Hannity tweeted at WikiLeaks, asking “Is it possible, likely or can you confirm instances where the CIA used Malware to ‘Attribute’ cyberattacks to other nations? Possibly Russia”:
This is just the latest example of Hannity's embrace of WikiLeaks. Throughout the 2016 election, Hannity and WikiLeaks developed a relationship of mutual admiration and promotion of one another. Hannity, who called for Assange’s arrest in 2010, had a change of heart once WikiLeaks started attacking Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Hannity went on to host Assange for multiple interviews on his radio and television shows, and the Fox host has described Assange as “the modern day Woodward and Bernstein,” a reference to the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story. Hannity’s newfound love for WikiLeaks led him to defend the organization’s conduct, even after it was confirmed that the documents they published originated from Russian-backed hacking intended to interfere in the 2016 election, because WikiLeaks “reveal[ed] how corrupt the liberal media is.” WikiLeaks, in turn, has promoted Hannity’s Assange interviews several times and has twice recently tweeted a Hannity segment featuring right-wing talk radio host Laura Ingraham talking about the “deep state.”
Though Hannity has always fervently defended Trump and lashed out at the president’s critics -- including accusing the media of “purposefully distorting” Trump’s request that the Russian government “find the 30,000 emails that are missing” -- Hannity’s Trump defenses have become increasingly conspiratorial. Hannity decried the entire story of alleged ties between Trump and Russia as “politically motivated” “liberal fake news.” He also called the consensus of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to disrupt the election “fake news,” claiming that there are not 17 intelligence agencies (there are.) So far, Hannity’s conspiratorial navel-gazing has culminated (in addition to the aforementioned CIA conspiracy theory) in the absurd allegation that former President Barack Obama’s campaign database is proof of “a shadow government” undermining the Trump administration, a claim also made by several fake news purveyors.
After years of posturing about repealing Obamacare -- with scores of votes but no consensus plan to replace it -- House Republicans finally released their bill to reshape the health insurance market on Monday.
President Donald Trump is one of the rare supporters of the proposal: Health care experts and reporters of all ideological stripes, health care industry stakeholders, and Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill promptly panned the legislation, with many noting that it fails to achieve any real policy aim other than providing tax cuts for wealthy Americans.
Notably, Republicans released the bill without a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which would project the number of Americans who would have health insurance if the law is passed and how it will impact the budget. House Republicans voted to pass the bill through committee yesterday even though they don’t have a sense of what will happen if it becomes law.
But according to the White House, there’s no reason to wait for the CBO’s report because the office can’t be trusted to properly analyze the bill anyway.
“If you're looking at the CBO for accuracy, you're looking in the wrong place,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday when asked about the issue. “Last time, if you look at the number of people that they projected would be on Obamacare, they are off by millions. So the idea that we're waiting for a score -- it will be scored. But the idea that that's any kind of authority based on the track record that occurred last time is a little far-fetched.”
That’s a shocking repudiation of the expertise provided by an agency of nonpartisan experts helmed by a director hand-picked by the administration’s own secretary of health and human services, then-Rep. Tom Price (R-GA). It’s also a notable shift for Spicer, who repeatedly cited the CBO’s reports on the impact of Obamacare and its score of Republican replacement legislation while serving as the communications director of the Republican National Committee.
The CBO’s initial 2010 score of the Affordable Care Act wasn’t perfect -- the law has cost less and insured fewer people than the agency originally predicted. But at least a score provides a frame of reference for what a bill that will impact the health care of millions of Americans will actually do.
Right now that doesn’t exist. Asked during a March 7 press briefing whether he could “guarantee that this plan will not have a markedly negative impact on deficit or result in millions of Americans losing health insurance,” Price could say only that “the goal and the desire I know of the individuals on the Hill is to make certain that this does not increase the cost to the federal government.”
And so Spicer was reduced to trying to damage the reputation of an impartial source of information, presumably because the CBO’s forthcoming score will add another log to the fire currently scorching a key administration priority.
This is the latest effort by the White House and its allies to discredit information sources other than those approved by the president.
Battered by criticism for its incompetence, extremism, and corruption, the administration is trying to build an environment in which its supporters have a ready stream of scapegoats and alternative facts with which to explain away White House scandals, while the rest of the public exists in a constant state of confusion, not sure who they can believe or trust.
Trump and his White House want to be able to engage in a widespread disinformation campaign, as is evidenced by his constant stream of false claims. But he can’t do that if other sources who dispute his lies are considered credible sources of information.
The administration’s effort begins with its constant denigration of the news media.
Building on decades of conservative attacks on the press, Trump’s campaign treated reporters as a punching bag. Trump responded to critical coverage by blaming the outlets producing it, denying everything, threatening lawsuits, and denying their reporters credentials. He lashed out at reporters on Twitter and encouraged his supporters to jeer at the journalists covering his rallies.
That vitriol followed Trump to the White House. As president, Trump has said that he is in a “war with the media,” calling reporters “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and claiming that they will “pay a big price” for purportedly lying about him. He has described major newspapers and networks as “fake news” sources that are the “enemy of the American people.”
The White House staff has followed Trump’s lead, championing his attacks on the press and adding their own.
Spicer used his first appearance as press secretary to claim reporters had engaged in “deliberately false reporting” and has criticized the media because their “default narrative is always negative.” Chief of staff Reince Priebus has claimed “there's an obsession by the media to delegitimize this president, and we are not going to sit around and let it happen.” Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, has called the press the “opposition party” and said that “It's going to get worse every day for the media.”
These efforts create an alternative narrative in which critical reporting about the White House is recast as an effort to bring down the president using what Trump has characterized as fake sources and deliberate lies.
When Trump isn’t claiming that journalists are making up their sources, he and his administration allies are trying to cast critical leaks from inside the government as part of a shadowy conspiracy against his presidency. Those government workers are a third independent source of information that the administration wants to discredit and delegitimize in order to preserve their control of the information ecosystem.
As The Washington Post detailed, Trump believes “that his presidency is being tormented in ways known and unknown by a group of Obama-aligned critics, federal bureaucrats and intelligence figures,” which are referred to within the White House as the “deep state.” According to the Post, Bannon has been stoking these fears:
Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist who once ran Breitbart, has spoken with Trump at length about his view that the “deep state” is a direct threat to his presidency.
Advisers pointed to Bannon’s frequent closed-door guidance on the topic and Trump’s agreement as a fundamental way of understanding the president’s behavior and his willingness to confront the intelligence community — and said that when Bannon spoke recently about the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” he was also alluding to his aim of rupturing the intelligence community and its influence on the U.S. national security and foreign policy consensus.
Over the past few months, the “deep state” has become a frequent topic of discussion for the writers of Breitbart.com, some of whom reportedly remain in contact with Bannon following his move to the White House.
The “deep state” was first described at Breitbart in a December 12 piece on the site headlined “The Deep State Vs. Donald Trump,” authored by the pseudonymous “Virgil.” The term is used as a catch-all designation for Trump’s purported domestic enemies, including but not limited to Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans, the press, all 22 million local, state, and federal government employees, every person who works for a government contractor, “all the wheeler-dealers, plus the hired-gun experts, lawyers, think-tankers, foundation executives,” anyone who benefits from government regulation, and companies that receive federal loans and loan guarantees.
According to the piece, the “deep state” is acting solely to protect its “luxe life” from Trump’s “drain-the-swamp pledge.” The author portrays Trump’s “purported ‘Russia Connection’” as solely an invention of those sources aimed at damaging the president.
Virgil, who has written for Breitbart since 2012 and has provided much of the site’s “deep state” coverage, describes himself as a “grizzled Beltway veteran.” His other writing for the site also revolves around Bannon priorities, including attacks on the press, glowing descriptions of ethno-nationalism and criticisms of globalism, and defenses of the White House chief strategist.
The Breitbart writer describes the press and the bureaucracy as allies in a war against Trump, and recommends the administration respond with a “permanent reworking and rewriting of operating budgets and statutory laws” -- in other words, the firing and imprisonment of leakers.
Breitbart’s criticism of the “deep state” picked up significantly after retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was forced to resign as Trump’s national security adviser following media reports that he had communicated with the Russian ambassador. Over the next few days, the website published four different pieces blaming those stories -- and Flynn’s resignation -- on the “deep state.”
“The Deep State can now claim a Trump administration scalp. And it’s hungry for more -- a lot more,” wrote Virgil. Without changes, he warned, “the situation will only get worse; the new future inside the federal government will be the bureaucratic version of kill-by-leak or be- killed-by-leak.”
Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow devoted much of his radio show on February 15 to the “scalp” the “deep state” had obtained, even asking a guest if it was part of a “coup happening from the Deep State.”
Last weekend, Trump’s escalating fury at his floundering administration finally manifested in an entirely baseless claim that Obama had ordered him to be wiretapped during the 2016 election. Obama denied the claim, baffled Republicans ran for cover, and reports circulated that FBI Director James Comey had asked the Justice Department to deny Trump’s statement because it “is false.”
But at Breitbart -- apparently the initial source of Trump’s allegation -- this was portrayed as a brilliant attack on his foes. “The White House statement on ‘DeepStateGate’ -- President Donald Trump’s allegations that former President Barack Obama ordered surveillance on him during his 2016 presidential campaign -- has the feel of cards and chips thumping down on the table,” wrote John Hayward. “After months of unfounded allegations and badly sourced speculation intended to cripple his administration, maybe Trump wanted to prove that only one side of the partisan divide is permitted to make ‘wild allegations.’ Obama’s plants in the Deep State can leak whatever they please, law and truth be damned.”
The press. Government employees. Non-partisan government agencies helmed by Republicans. All of them are now being portrayed by the administration as unworthy of the public trust, because they put out information damaging to the president. Only Trump can be trusted. “I am your voice,” as Trump declared during his RNC speech. “I alone can fix it.”
When nothing the president says can be believed, and the president says that no one that rebuts his statements is trustworthy, the information ecosystem is taking on a truly authoritarian shape.
Major news outlets have repeatedly failed to accurately portray President Donald Trump’s misleading and false claims in their headlines, including just his comments without noting that they’re false or without including crucial context. But some experts have advice for how journalists can write headlines that better inform their readers about the president’s claims and allegations.
Many news organizations have fallen into the lazy trap of simply repeating whatever Trump claims in their headlines, without indicating whether it’s true or including necessary context. In fact, many of the country’s most prominent mainstream media outlets have been guilty of this practice. Here are some examples in their original format (some have since changed):
The first two failed to contextualize Trump’s statements, specifically failing to note that Trump had for years perpetuated the falsehood that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., and that Ford had never planned to move its Kentucky plant, only to shift a fraction of its production. The last two headlines gave credence to Trump’s claims despite a total lack of evidence.
Why is it important that headlines about Trump fully inform readers about what he says and does? Because a 2014 study by the Media Insight Project revealed that around 60 percent of American news consumers read only news headlines. When that many readers don’t go beyond the headline, including clarifying details only in the body of the piece is simply insufficient, leaving many people uninformed about the truth -- or lack thereof -- behind Trump’s claims.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, discussed on CNN’s Reliable Sources the dilemma that Trump’s spurious claims create for journalists, and explained the need for headlines to make it clear when his comments lack proof:
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: [Trump] creates a dilemma for journalists because ordinarily journalists would say, "The president said," then would look for the alternative, then look for the documentation and play through that narrative. But when there's no proof, journalists have to find a way in the headline to say, "Without proof, Trump alleges" so that we don't put in place the allegation as if it has some legitimacy. Rather, we should be saying, “Where's the proof?” What Trump specializes in is shifting the burden of proof. Making a charge with no evidence and then asking for an investigation shifts the burden of proof. Now someone is supposed to disprove an unproven allegation.
Jim Rutenberg, a media columnist for The New York Times, offered similar input on Fox News’ MediaBuzz when asked how to frame Trump’s latest evidence-free allegation that Obama wiretapped him:
JIM RUTENBERG: Here is this amazing, huge allegation. So we need to drive for evidence. And so if there isn't any, we need to say it. Because if you do that headline -- and this is a big debate, you’ll see it unfold on Twitter and kind of publicly and I'm sure other shows like this one -- is if you do that headline, “President Trump accuses predecessor of spying on him,” that's a very flat statement. And if there’s no evidence, I think you do have to say there’s no evidence.
And George Lakoff, a retired University of California, Berkeley cognitive science and linguistics professor, gave a more in-depth explanation on Reliable Sources on how to best report on Trump’s comments -- in short, state the truth before introducing Trump’s claim or quote:
GEORGE LAKOFF: Well first of all, you do need the facts, but you need to know how to present those facts because if you just negate what [Trump’s] saying, you're going to just strengthen him. So, remember, Richard Nixon said, “I am not a crook,” and people thought of him as a crook. I wrote a book called Don't Think of an Elephant. It makes you think of an elephant. If you say -- repeat what Donald Trump says, and then negate it and say “no,” and then you repeat what he says and say it's false, what you're doing is strengthening that, because in your brain, the neural circuits have to activate what you are negating in order to negate it, and that strengthens what you're negating. So every time you negate it, you help the other side.
What you can do is the opposite. What Trump is doing in these cases is diverting attention from real issues. Real issues like Russia, for example. Like his foreign policy, like his business connections, and on and on. Lots of real issues that he's diverting attention from. What you can do in reporting this is talk first about the truth about what he's diverting attention from, the real issues. Then go and say, “Here’s what he said in his tweet because his tweet is strategic, trying to divert attention.” Then you can say, “This is an attempt to divert attention from this and it's false. Here is why it's false. Let's go back to the real issues,” and you go on. With about 30 seconds on Trump, rather than all the time on Trump. The more time you spend on Trump on putting him out there, the more you help him.
BRIAN STELTER (HOST): I'll take an example from that sound bite we just played. We played the president talking about Obamacare. So you're saying the better way to handle this is to do the following: to say Obamacare supports 22 million people, but President Trump today said very few people have Obamacare. Is that the better way?
LAKOFF: Well, the fact is that it's false. And what he's trying to do is divert attention from the truth -- again. And that's exactly what you say. When you report it, you point out first, frame first, that Obamacare took care of 22 million people, more than were before. That attempts to get rid of it would get rid of care for many millions of people. Then you can say, “But the president, diverting attention from this, said the following.” Then you give his quote, and you say, “He missed, of course, the fact that 22 million people is not a few number of people.”
LAKOFF: You frame first. You frame with the truth first. Your job is to present the truth for the public good. And you do it first because if he gets to frame it first, that's how people understand the situation.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer attacked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) claiming that if the office has “any kind of authority [that] is a little far-fetched.” Spicer’s dismissal of the CBO’s credibility follows years of misrepresentations and attacks against the CBO by right-wing media figures. In fact, Spicer himself and President Donald Trump have cited CBO analysis to boost their agenda.”
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