Chris Cillizza

Tags ››› Chris Cillizza
  • Chris Cillizza Demonstrates Why "Optics" Punditry Is Fundamentally Useless

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Before, during, and after President Donald Trump’s speech last night to a joint session of Congress, political journalists and pundits shamelessly prioritized the speech’s optics over its content. Focusing on the president’s “tone,” they rushed to declare that Trump had finally “pivoted,” giving a “presidential” speech.

    That obsession with style over substance drew swift criticism from other commentators. And Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza isn’t happy that pundits are being called out for saying Trump did an awesome job:

    These are dumb questions. Of course Trump can be praised for “delivering a good speech.” In fact, you don’t need to be a savvy pundit or political journalist to watch the speech and decide whether the speech is good!

    And that’s the problem. As Greg Sargent suggests, the real question is whether journalists are actually giving their audience useful information when they obsess over the president’s tone instead of the content of his speech.

    Do readers and viewers learn anything, for example, when they see Cillizza praising Trump for giving the best speech of his political life and complaining on cable news that “the worst thing, I think, for our politics is this assumption, and you see it over and over again in a speech like this, is that Donald Trump can do nothing good and nothing can be accomplished while Donald Trump is president”? (Really, that’s the absolute worst thing Cillizza can think of that can happen to our politics?)

    Americans need journalists to dig into whether anything Trump said last night could possibly be converted to policy (nope). They need journalists to interrogate Trump’s claims and determine whether they were true (they weren’t). They need journalists to put Trump’s speech into the context of his actions and explain whether he’s needlessly fearmongering about immigrant communities (my god, yes).

    And it’s helpful to learn that even the White House is shocked at how eager the press has been to praise Trump’s speech:

    Endless discussion of the optics of Trump’s speech, on the other hand, is entirely useless. There is no value in providing the “winners and losers” from last night in a way that treats Trump’s mendacity as a throwaway line.

    Of course, Cillizza’s entire oeuvre is based on the concept that he is a savvy pundit who tells people what they really need to know about politics based on a surface-level, optics-first approach.

    While he’s certainly one of the worst examples of the genre, he’s not alone -- at times, cable news seems to exist solely so Mark Halperin and Joe Scarborough and Gloria Borger and David Gergen and their ilk can pontificate about nonsense. They present value judgments and opinion dressed up as koans of wisdom.

    At best, content like this is ephemeral garbage that lasts a news cycle and is forgotten, but provides traffic that supports the work of actual reporters.

    At worst, this sort of fact-free punditry creates false narratives that can alter the public’s perception of political figures (see: the press’s obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 election cycle, which paved the way for Trump’s election).

    President Trump’s first weeks have been a shitshow of incompetence and extremism. The American public needs more from the press than meaningless dreck.

  • Media Can't Stop Pining For Another Trump Pivot

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media seized on President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress as an opportunity for him to “pivot” or “reset” his administration. This canard that he would at some point change course was repeated throughout the presidential campaign, yet any shifts that occurred were always short-lived.

  • Here Are The Media Figures Who Praised Renowned Liar Sean Spicer

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has attracted widespread criticism for “a series of false statements” he made about the size of the crowds at the presidential inauguration. Prior to Spicer’s meltdown, however, some media figures were full of praise for the “competent, thorough” “straight shooter.”  Later, other media figures credited him for a supposed “reboot” in his first official press briefing as White House press secretary.

  • How The Press Never Stopped Blaming Obama For Radical GOP Obstruction

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Right on cue, as President Obama readies his exit from office, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza this week published a misguided critique of the Democrat’s two terms. His analysis focused specifically on Obama’s broken “promise” and parroted a favorite Beltway media talking point: Both sides are to blame for the federal government being mired in “partisan gridlock” during his eight years, and it’s largely Obama’s fault he didn’t “fix” politics. Obama didn’t create “a government that worked for all of us”; he failed to create “something new, different and better,” wrote Cillizza.

    Cillizza acknowledges that “Democrats immediately point to the fact that congressional Republicans, almost from the first day of Obama's time in the White House, made opposing him a political strategy,” but dismisses it as being the primary cause for the partisan mess. (In Cillizza’s view, it’s both sides’ supposed culpability for the failed “grand bargain” in 2011 that serves as the key event.)

    The erroneous analysis represents a safe refrain that’s been repeated by journalists for years, as they’ve collectively convinced themselves that Obama’s culpable for the radical Republican obstruction that partly defined his two terms. They’re comfortably certain that if Obama had just reached out earlier, or more aggressively, or more sincerely (or “schmooz[ed]" a bit harder), things could have played out more smoothly and Obama could have written a different Beltway script where harmony and progress reigned. 

    It’s pure fantasy, of course.

    Fact: When Republican leadership adopted the radical position that they’d refuse to even hold hearings for Obama's next Supreme Court nominee, the GOP systematically shred more than 100 years of protocol in the process. That’s what Obama faced for much of the last eight years, and the press’s messaging has helped Republicans every step of the way.  

    Still, the bipartisan fantasy endured: Republicans wanted to work with Obama and make serious, good-faith deals, it’s just that Obama wasn’t savvy enough to read their signals (i.e. Why won’t he just lead?).

    What’s so bizarre about this parallel universe that the press concocted is that by the end of Obama’s second term, Republicans weren’t even trying to hide their radically obstructionist ways in closed-door strategy sessions. They bragged about refusing to work with Democrats. (Today, they insist that Trump, who lost the popular vote, somehow secured a “mandate” that Democrats must respect.)

    Yet here’s Cillizza in the face of Republican obstructionist boasts, still pretending Obama’s largely at fault for screwing things up and that he passed up a great chance to forever fix partisan rancor. So desperate is the media’s need to portray the Republican Party as a mainstream institution that has not drastically veered toward the fringes in recent years, that journalists are willing to blame the victim. And they’ve been willing, and eager, to normalize Republican behavior.

    Just logically, why would the president who's had his agenda categorically obstructed be the one blamed for having his agenda categorically obstructed, and not the politicians who purposefully plotted the standoff? It doesn’t make sense, other than because the Beltway press is opting to give in to Republicans and downplaying the party’s radical ways -- in an apparent effort to maintain the preferred media mirage that “both sides” are to blame when the government doesn’t function.

    When Republicans obstructed Obama's agenda, the president was responsible for not changing the GOP's unprecedented behavior. And if it wasn’t entirely Obama’s fault, then "both sides" were to blame for the GOP's extremist actions and the grand gridlock it purposefully produced. 

    And the media blame game started from essentially day one for Obama. On January 29, 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported, "As the House on Wednesday gave President Obama the first big legislative victory of his term, it was clear that his efforts so far had not delivered the post-partisan era that he called for in his inauguration address."

    Meaning, nine days after first being sworn in, Obama was being blamed for not having ushered in a shiny, new "post-partisan era." (Loved that Times headline, too: “Newpolitical era? Same as the old one.”)

    But no, Obama didn’t usher in a new bipartisan era, because Republicans wouldn’t let him -- and that’s according to Republicans. "If he was for it, we had to be against it," was how former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained the GOP’s knee-jerk response to Obama proposals.

    Given a path by the press to obstruct Obama and to also be rewarded for scoring victories over him in the process, Republicans seized every opportunity and soon defied historic norms.

    We saw it with the sequester obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, paid leave obstruction, cabinet nominee obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and of course the 2013 gun bill obstruction.

    That was the expanded background check bill featuring a centerpiece proposal that enjoyed nearly 90 percent public approval, including overwhelming support from Republican voters and gun owners. But Obama couldn’t get most Republican senators to budge. “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it,” explained Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA), who was one of just four Republicans who voted for the compromise bill.

    But most of the context was left out of the gun vote coverage in 2013, as pundits and press rushed in to blame “Obama and his allies” for the actions of obstructionist Republicans.

    For the record, there were some lonely voices in the Beltway wilderness who specifically debunked the “both sides” meme and placed the gridlock responsibility squarely on the shoulders of activist Republicans.

    "We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional," scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein wrote in The Washington Post in 2012 in an essay adapted from their then-new book. "In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party."

    Perhaps not surprisingly, the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows and much of the media at large wasn’t interested in their analysis, which Ornstein told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent was unfortunate given the fact that their assessment “focused on press culpability — it would be hard to find a more sensitive issue for the media than the question of whether they’re doing their job.”

    That simply wasn’t the preferred story the Beltway press wanted to tell during the Obama years.

  • Media Figures Praise Trump’s Health Care “Policy” Speech, Ignoring His Total Lack Of Specifics Or Viable Policy Proposals

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Media figures praised Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for his speech in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania that briefly touched on health care, calling it a “very, very good speech” focused on the substance of his proposals for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. In reality, Trump’s speech was full of recycled, unworkable Republican proposals that would increase the deficit and leave an estimated 24 million people without health insurance coverage. 

  • Three Ways Fox Is Attempting To Delegitimize Clinton’s Lead In The Polls

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Fox News has attempted to delegitimize Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls for months, claiming that the polls are skewed due to oversampling, that the size of rallies Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds is more indicative of his support than polls, and that there are “secret” Trump supporters who are too embarrassed to tell pollsters whom they support. However, other media outlets have explained that concerns about oversampling are “laughably incorrect,” and that claims that crowds are more accurate than polling are some of “the most idiotic claims out there.”

  • Three Missteps To Avoid When Reporting On Clinton Email "Quid Pro Quo"

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and other Republicans are trying to use newly released FBI documents from the agency’s closed investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as secretary of state to generate a scandal around a purported “quid pro quo” between the FBI and State Department, raising new issues for political journalists who have records of getting the facts wrong on email stories. In one such case, Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post’s The Fix politics blog made a series of missteps regarding who issued the proposed “quid pro quo,” whether it occurred, and the meaning of a classification marking.

  • The Guide To Donald Trump's War On The Press (So Far)

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has an extensive history of attacking the media, and his campaign and supporters have joined in the fight throughout the election. The nominee, his surrogates, and his supporters have called media outlets and reporters across the spectrum “dishonest,” “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time,” and until recently, the campaign had a media blacklist of outlets that weren’t allowed into campaign events.

  • A History Lesson On Abraham Lincoln And Adoption Of The 13th Amendment

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Media attacked as “ridiculous” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s citation of Abraham Lincoln during the second presidential debate in explaining why she said during a 2013 speech that politics can require taking different public and private positions. According to The Associated Press, Clinton was correct that she was talking about Lincoln in her 2013 remarks, and according to Time magazine, Clinton accurately characterized Lincoln’s actions in her debate answer.

  • There Is No Evidence Terror Attacks Help Donald Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza is claiming that terror attacks like the weekend’s explosions in New York and New Jersey and stabbings in a Minnesota mall will benefit Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump because they are “external events [that] affirm his diagnosis of the current state of politics,” and thus his message “hits home” under those circumstances. But Cillizza presents no actual evidence of his claim, and polling following terror attacks in San Bernardino, CA; Paris, France; Orlando, FL; and Nice, France undermine his claims.

    Cillizza writes that Trump’s message is “politicians are failures,” and that “To get voters to sign onto that message and, more challengingly, that messenger, Trump needs external events to affirm his diagnosis of the current state of politics — that it is an utter failure and, not only that, but that the failures of politicians have made the average person less safe.” He concludes in his September 19 post:

    Most people — Democrats and Republicans — share Trump's alienation from politics and politicians. They are convinced, as Trump is, that politics is broken, and none of the people in office right now have any idea how to fix it. Given that, when they turn on the news and are presented with the chaos we have seen over the past three days, the Trump message — "We have to make a change. No choice." — hits home in a way that it wouldn't if most people feel safe and secure.

    The most basic dynamic of this race is [Hillary] Clinton as safe, capable and status quo, and Trump as risky, unpredictable and change. The more chaos people see in the country and the world, the more they are willing to throw over Clinton's experience and swallow their doubts about Trump's readiness for office. He truly is the chaos candidate.

    Cillizza cites no polling data to support this contention; he is simply dressing up his gut opinion as savvy analysis. A review of actual data shows no evidence to back his suggestion that Trump does better than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton following unpredictable events such as terrorist attacks.

    Here's the RealClearPolitics poll average for the two weeks after the June 12 terrorist shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Trump’s support was static while Clinton’s increased:

    Here’s the poll average for the two weeks after the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino. Trump’s support fell slightly while Clinton’s increased by several points:

    The RealClearPolitics average showed almost no movement in the two weeks after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris:

    And while the average shows an increase in Trump’s support following the July 14 attacks in Nice, that period overlapped with the Republican National Convention:

    If Cillizza had consulted data, rather than trying to tell a story that validates his own opinions, he would have found that terror attacks are at worst a wash for Clinton and that they may actually improve her standing with voters.

  • Norm Ornstein Takes On The Media’s Election Coverage Failures

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    American Enterprise Institute scholar Norm Ornstein pointed to the flawed news judgment of political editors and cable news producers when it comes to election coverage in a series of email exchanges with The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, stating that coverage of Hillary Clinton stories related to the Clinton Foundation and her private email server have been “way overdone” while too much of the coverage of Donald Trump has focused on “his campaign and its tactics” rather than following up on the GOP nominee’s “deep conflicts of interest.”

    Ornstein, long a prominent centrist intellectual, has since 2012 been a leading voice calling out the increasing radicalism of the Republican Party. He has been a harsh critic of the media’s coverage during this election cycle.

    Several Media Matters studies and reports support Ornstein’s contention that the press has devoted substantial resources to flawed but negative stories about Clinton while failing to follow through on investigations into Trump.

    In a series of exchanges with Cillizza, Ornstein criticized what he termed the “stupid” coverage of Clinton, which he said has focused too much on the Foundation and email stories to the exclusion of reporting on her tenure in government:

    I think the coverage of Clinton has been stupid — an obsessive focus on press conferences, on the Clinton Foundation, on emails, the latter legitimate stories but way overdone, with almost nothing on her major policy proposals. There, it is the Times and AP, who are the serious actors.

    [...]

    You and your colleagues make value judgments about what you want to cover, based often on the stories' importance (see "Spotlight") but also what brings readers and eyeballs and clicks, and what brings recognition and prizes, and on gut judgments. The coverage of Clinton emails and the Foundation, measured not just in number of stories but in placement, allocation of resources and column inches (again, not WaPo) and in lead stories, minutes on air, is in my view over the top. And the fact that many stories have been wrong, in some cases because of a reliance on leaks from Republican staffers and members of the Benghazi Committee, or a rip and read of a Judicial Watch press release, makes it much worse.

    [...]

    Yes, her performance as secretary of state is a good, perhaps the best, indicator of how she would govern. And somehow, you and your colleagues in the media have decided that the emails and the Clinton Foundation are the be-all and end-all of her judgment and the indication of how she would govern. Not how she ran the State Department, how she structured and dealt with the team of people around her, how she interacted with the president, the secretar(ies) of defense, the national security advisers, the DNI, etc. Not what she accomplished and did not accomplish. Not her judgments on policy or other leaders. I should add, not all of those stories would be flattering or laudatory. I don't have the time or resources to count up the column inches since the nominations were decided that have been devoted to email and the Foundation, compared to the other issues above, but I would wager the ratio is, as they say, huge. The Post has been better than its competitors, but as I recall, even you, for example, bit on the ridiculous AP story making something sinister out of the meeting with Mohammed Yunus. The need to go on the Web immediately, the new world of traditional print journalism, has its own pathologies built into it.

    He wrote that by contrast, coverage of Trump has disproportionately focused on his campaign’s strategy and tactics, to the exclusion of sustained reporting on his conflicts of interest and other important stories that would more directly speak to what his presidency would look like:

    On Trump, The Post is a model. I have no doubt that the fact that other outlets, from the Times and AP to the TV channels, network and cable, have largely ignored what Fahrenthold has done is the usual professional jealousy. But it is bad and unprofessional. When stories have been done about Trump's behavior as a businessman, or in cutting off the health coverage out of spite for his grand nephew with cerebral palsy, they tend to be one-offs, no follow up and no other outlets picking up on the story. Trump has gotten plenty of negative coverage, but it is different in nature and tone from that of Clinton. And so much of the coverage, including especially the nattering on cable news chat shows, has been about his campaign and its tactics. Now we have Kurt Eichenwald's deep and chilling piece about Trump's relations with Russia, China and others in his business empire, and the implications for his governance — and the nets, cable and most print people did nothing and focused on Dr. Oz and Clinton's health.

    [...]

    The stakes are really, really high. The relentless search for the pivot that will show [Trump] is presidential, behaving "normally," is classic horse-race nonsense and takes up much of the bandwidth of his coverage. The real traditional stories about his campaign, including bringing in Bannon — a celebrant and megaphone for the alt-right, including its anti-Semitism and white nationalism— and Ailes, his continued reliance on Roger Stone, get short shrift.

    [...]

    On Trump, we started this dialogue with my comment that "you guys," meaning the print and television world, were being played like a Stradivarius by Trump and his people, drawn like moths to the flame (excuse the mixed metaphors, I could add in Pavlovian dogs) to the back-and-forth machinations and pronouncements of Trumpland, using most of the bandwidth of coverage of Trump instead of covering two major stories about his fitness to be president: the corruption of the Trump Foundation, and even more, the insidious foreign dealings reported in Kurt Eichenwald's deep piece in Newsweek. Again, I give kudos to David Fahrenthold, the role model of this campaign, and leave out The Post from criticism on the Foundation story. But there has been almost nothing on Trump's deep conflicts of interest — and the reporting by Fahrenthold strongly suggests that if Trump were faced with a choice between pursuing America's national interest or protecting his family assets, he would go with the latter.

    Ornstein concludes that cable news and print editorial story selection and emphasis has been poor throughout the election and has led to readers and viewers receiving coverage that lacks proper context:

    On the latter point, cable news, which features a lot of print reporters (including The Post's) and which is on in many newsrooms around the clock, which is a major source of news and cues for our opinion leaders, does matter. It can skew news in a fashion that has lots of Americans believing something that is simply false — a good example, Fox News regulars believe that unemployment is up and the stock market is down since Obama became president. And the other cable networks can leave lots of viewers believing, for example, that scientists are evenly split on whether climate change is real, because most discussions pit a climate change believer against a denier.

    But I don't want to leave this as just a problem of cable news. There are major prestigious newspapers and other news sources that matter enormously. And they matter not just in what stories they run, but how much they cover more than one story, where the story is placed, how much emphasis they give, how careful they are at getting facts straight, how sensitive they are to where leaks are coming from and whether they are accurate or slanted. Here, by the way, I wish you and the Times, as examples, would announce that any anonymous source who gives you false or misleading information will be outed — the privilege of anonymity extends only to provision of accurate information.

    The real forces here are the editors, at the top and all the way down, deciding what to cover, what goes on the front page, what goes above the fold, what the headlines are, how to allocate scarce resources, how to respond to errors, how to deal with rumors. And I see increasing and troubling evidence, less in The Post than in others, of a rush to get stories out there because of the demand for eyeballs and clicks, fewer safeguards at the managing editor and below, less tolerance of criticism. The Post, the Times, the AP matter more than a slew of local papers, because they both set the standard and provide the feeds used across the country and abroad.

     

  • After Clinton Feels Overheated At 9/11 Event, Media Issue “Special Reports” And Continue To Mainstream Health Conspiracies

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    NBC News Special Reports have usually been about significant international issues like the terrorist attack in Nice, France, the attempted coup in Turkey, the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba after being closed for over fifty years, or significant events like the arrival of the Pope, the death of singer Prince, and reports of mass shootings.

    On September 11, the network issued two special reports because Hillary Clinton felt overheated at a memorial event.

    While attending the memorial service commemorating the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Clinton left early after feeling “overheated,” according to campaign spokesman Nick Merrill. In a statement, Merrill said, “Secretary Clinton attended the September 11th Commemoration Ceremony for just an hour and thirty minutes this morning to pay her respects and greet some of the families of the fallen. During the ceremony, she felt overheated, so departed to go to her daughter's apartment and is feeling much better.”

    A few hours later, Clinton left Chelsea Clinton’s apartment. She was filmed waving to the crowd and told the press assembled outside, “It’s a beautiful day,” and said she was “feeling great.” She then posed for a photo with a young girl.

    In addition to NBC’s Special Reports, the media took the incident as an opportunity to continue to legitimize conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health that have circulated in the conservative media.

    Fox’s Sean Hannity has perhaps been beating the drum the loudest, claiming that “coughing fits” from Clinton are signs of a serious medical condition, while also claiming that it is possible that she had a “stroke.” Rush Limbaugh, along with the Drudge Report, Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory website Infowars, and others recently pushed an internet survey from a fringe conspiracy group to claim that Clinton’s health disqualifies her from the presidency. Trump campaign surrogates have also promoted baseless health conspiracies in appearances on cable news.

    At the same time, reporters who have been in frequent contact with Clinton on the campaign trail have said that the allegations and conspiracies are baseless.

    Despite this background, several media outlets used news of Clinton’s overheating to give the conspiracy theories more oxygen.

    On Meet the Press, NBC News Special Correspondent Tom Brokaw referenced the “very vigorous campaign both aboveground and belowground” by Republicans to “raise questions about her health,” and said he thought Clinton should “go to a hospital” and “see a neurologist and get a clean report if it’s available to her.”

    The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote a piece headlined, “Hillary Clinton’s health just became a real issue in the presidential campaign.” He said the episode had “changed the conversation in the race about Clinton’s health” and would “catapult questions about her health from the ranks of conservative conspiracy theory to perhaps the central debate in the presidential race over the coming days.” Cillizza went on to claim, “Taking the Clinton team's word for it on her health -- in light of the episode on Sunday morning -- is no longer enough.”

    New York Times Los Angeles bureau Chief Adam Nagourney tweeted that it “Feels like a good day for Clinton to release her medical records and call on Trump to do same.”

    During CNN’s coverage, correspondent Jeff Zeleny said, “You have to wonder: Will they be sort of forced to release more medical records here because she is being criticized by her opponents here. The questions have been out there: Is she healthy?”

    Both Zeleny and NBC’s Chuck Todd noted in their reporting that Clinton has released more of her medical information than Donald Trump has. Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter noted the media “should not give oxygen to” conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health that have appeared online and in supermarket tabloids, but made the distinction that “there are legitimate questions” to be asked by reporters about Clinton’s health.

    Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik told Reliable Sources the possible implications of inaccurate reporting on the topic would be “awful” and “on something like this, Brian, you wait until you have at least two sources you’re comfortable with.”