Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • NY Times Remains Embroiled In Controversy Over Its 2016 Coverage Of Russia And Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Nearly three months after The New York Times published an influential report on the eve of Election Day insisting “law enforcement officials” had been unable to find concrete links between Russia and the Trump campaign – or find proof Russian operatives were trying to help get Trump elected -- Times editors are still grappling with the controversial coverage. They also remain slow to provide answers to critics who wonder how an article essentially clearing Trump and his associates of links to Russia -- which “hasn’t aged well,” as Chris Hayes put it -- made it into print during such a crucial juncture of the campaign.

    New questions have also been raised about the Times’ decision late in the campaign to sit on the story that Russian officials may have compromising information on Trump; information that was contained in a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official.

    Times executive editor Dean Baquet remains defiant and is lashing out at critics; even one who writes for the Times.

    As for Russia allegedly trying to help elect Trump, Media Matters recently highlighted the Times’ October 31 article, which was headlined, “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.”

    We noted that an avalanche of revelations have since confirmed the FBI did suspect there were ties between Russia and Trump during the campaign. And when it was published, it was gleefully endorsed by the conservative media as proof that any speculation of there being Russia-Trump connection had been debunked by Times.

    In real time, coming on the eve of the election, the article helped put the media brakes on the unfolding Russian hacking story; the same Russian hacking story that has since turned into a full-time Trump controversy.

    Last Friday, Times public editor Liz Spayd addressed the Times’ Russia-Trump coverage from last fall. Overall, she critiqued the paper’s work as being “timid,” and too often relying on the actions of law enforcement officials, rather than by the paper’s own investigative reporting.

    She was specifically critical of the paper’s handling of the explosive Trump dossier story, noting, “Only after learning from CNN that Trump and President Obama had been briefed on the document did The Times publish what it had known for months.”

    What had the Times known for months? Spayd spells out that Times reporters knew about the dossier, they interviewed its author, knew he was a legitimate former intelligence officer, and could find no “significant red flags” while trying to fact-check the dossier. Despite all that, the Times sat on the dossier story.

    Spayd suggests that part of the reason they didn’t run with the “explosive allegations” was that journalists didn’t think Trump was going to win the election, so the paper didn’t want to risk sparking a controversy by reporting on the dossier.

    Spayd’s appraisal echoes criticism she made last November, just days before the election, when she stressed the Times newsroom hadn’t given enough time and attention to the Russia hacking story. Times readers, she wrote, had been “shortchanged.” (By contrast, she noted the Times newsroom seemed “turbocharged” while covering the Hillary Clinton email saga.)

    The public editor’s most recent critique immediately sparked outcry from within the Times, leading to the odd spectacle of executive editor Baquet airing his complaints about Spayd’s column to the Washington Post. Denouncing Spayd’s critique as a “bad column” that reached a “fairly ridiculous conclusion” (“she doesn’t understand what happened”), Baquet vigorously defended the paper’s election season work on the Russia-Trump story, and stressed that he personally oversaw much of it.

    If that’s the case, Baquet should be able to answer some key, lingering questions about the Times’ misguided October 31 story about there being no evidence of Russia trying to help elect Trump during the campaign:

    • Does Baquet know who the unnamed “law enforcement” sources were who mislead the newspaper about the FBI not being to uncover any evidence of any Russia-Trump link?
    • If those sources lied to the Times, and especially if they did so for partisan reasons, does Baquet agree that the paper is under no obligation to protect their identity?
    • And were those sources part of an anti-Clinton cabal within the FBI, and specifically within the FBI’s New York bureau?
    • Are Times reporters today still using those untrustworthy sources?

    Banquet’s continued defensive posture is reminiscent of the strategy Times editors took in the wake of the Iraq War in 2003 when it became increasingly clear that the paper’s pre-war coverage had failed badly, especially its over-eagerness to help the Bush administration sell a story about the looming threat of Iraq WMDs. For a year, Times editors defended the paper’s performance.

    It wasn’t until May 26, 2004, that the Times published a mea culpa of sorts. (Days later, the paper’s public editor offered up a scathing critique of the newsroom’s effort during the run-up to the war.)

    Today, Banquet is taking the same approach regarding the Times and the Russian hacking story: The newspaper did nothing wrong and all questions ought to be dismissed.

    But they’re not. From Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to President Obama:

    Public editor Spayd made a good-faith effort to put the Times’ 2016 Russia-Times hacking coverage into perspective and to offer up an honest appraisal. It would be helpful if the Times leadership did the same.

  • 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.

  • When The New York Times Helped Trump By Putting The Brakes On The Russian Hacking Story

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Talk about strange bedfellows joining forces to produce an unlikely media alliance.

    That’s what happened when The New York Times reported on October 31, 2016, that FBI officials had not been able to uncover any evidence that Russian operatives, through allegedly hacking Democratic emails, were trying to help elect Donald Trump.

    “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia,” read the October 31 Times headline which relied on unnamed “law enforcement officials.”  

    Acting as an almost unofficial time-out, and one that came with the Times’ seal of approval, the article helped put the media brakes on the unfolding Russian hacking story; the same Russian hacking story that has now morphed into a full-scale Trump scandal.

    The message on October 31 from the Times’ sources was unmistakable: There’s no conclusive connection between Trump and the Russians, and the Russians’ efforts were “aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.” (Question: How do you not pick sides in a two-person election if you only undermine one of the candidates, the way Russian hackers only undermined the Democrat?)

    The Times piece set off audible cheers within the conservative media, which usually holds the Times in contempt for its supposed “liberal media bias.”

    In fact, pointing to the newspaper’s alleged Democratic leanings, conservative claimed that if even the liberal New York Times determined there was no Trump-Russia story, then it definitely must be true.

    “And as far as liberals are concerned, the Democrats are concerned, when the New York Times clears you, you are cleared,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners on November 1. “The New York Times carries as much weight as the FBI, and if the New York Times says there’s nothing to see between Trump and Russia and Putin, then there’s nothing to see.” 

    All across the conservative media landscape, the Times report was held up as putting the Trump-Russia story to bed.

    However, to suggest the Times’ influential October 31 report “hasn’t aged well,” as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes recently put it, may be an understatement, as the unfolding hacking scandal continues to gain momentum and more evidence tumbles out regarding claims that Russians were trying to help Trump. (Hayes also correctly recalled that "At the same time the FBI was leaking like a sieve about Clinton, people around it went out of their way to dampen the Putin talk.")

    The problems with the Times article are many. First off, Sen. Harry Reid’s spokesman claimed that Reid had been interviewed for the Times’ article, pushed back against its timid premise about there being no connection, and that Reid’s comments were omitted from the story. 

    More recently, we’ve seen all kinds of information revealed that contradicts the Times’ often-quoted October 31 report. For instance, FBI Director James Comey testified in December that Russia had “hacked into Republican state political campaigns and old email domains of the Republican National Committee,” but did not release information from those hacks. As Reuters pointed out, that allegation “may buttress the U.S. intelligence view that Moscow tried to help Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign.”

    More recently, the BBC reported that “a joint taskforce, which includes the CIA and the FBI, has been investigating allegations that the Russians may have sent money to Mr Trump's organisation or his election campaign.” Also last week, the Guardian reported that FBI investigators were so concerned with a possible Trump-Russia connection that they asked for a foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) warrant to monitor Trump aides during the campaign. (The warrant request was reportedly denied.)

    Meanwhile, Britain’s The Independent reported that the former intelligence officer who wrote the recently revealed Trump dossier was frustrated that the FBI had “for months” ignored the information he passed along to the bureau about a possible Trump-Russian connection.

    Note that just four weeks after the election, the Times itself reported, “Both intelligence and law enforcement officials agree that there is a mountain of circumstantial evidence suggesting that the Russian hacking was primarily aimed at helping Mr. Trump and damaging his opponent.” (Emphasis added.)

    And from NPR: “FBI, CIA Agree That Russia Was Trying To Help Trump Win The Election.”

    Here’s the larger context for the Times report and why it was seen as such a game-changer at the time.

    On October 31, the FBI was dealing with two breaking news stories that were spinning out of its control and reflecting poorly on Comey.

    The bureau was under withering criticism from legal experts, journalists, Democrats, and even some Republicans after Comey inserted insert himself into the final days of the campaign by informing Congress that the FBI was reigniting its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email while secretary of state. That last weekend in October the bureau was also battling damaging news stories that suggested its leadership had been slow to respond to the Russian hacking controversy as it pertained to Donald Trump. 

    Comey’s letter to Congress about the emails was dispatched October 28. In the days that followed, a steady stream of revelations undercut his actions. On October 30, CNN reported that the FBI had known about the new emails for “weeks” before Comey decided to go public with the information just days before the election. 

    The following day, news outlets reported that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) had sent Comey a blistering letter , insisting the FBI director was sitting on “‘explosive’ information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government.”

    That same day, Mother Jones, foreshadowing the news last week about a dossier collected on Trump, reported that, “a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country” had provided to the FBI with “memos, based on his recent interactions with Russian sources, contending the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump—and that the FBI requested more information from him.”

    And that same day, CNBC reported, “FBI Director James Comey argued privately that it was too close to Election Day for the United States government to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election.”

    The contrast was startling: Comey had publicly reinvigorated the Clinton email investigation based on emails the FBI hadn’t even read (the emails turned out to be irrelevant), yet at the same time Comey allegedly sat on new information regarding claims that Trump had ongoing ties with Russia because Comey thought the optics would look bad.

    Given all this, the FBI needed a way to stop the public relations bleeding. And late in the day on October 31, the Times provided the respite. 

    Specifically, the article helped push back on reports Comey didn’t want to go public with any Russian information close to Election Day.

    “The reason Comey didn’t announce the existence of this investigation wasn’t because it was it was ‘explosive’ and could impact the election,” announced the conservative site, Hot Air, pointing to the Times article. “It was because the FBI had already figured out it was a dud.” 

    In other words, FBI PR problem solved. The problems with the Times report, however, were just beginning.

  • D.C. Press Took Collective Action To Protest Obama White House Restrictions -- Why Not Trump?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    With an allegation of Russian-style censorship hanging in the air in 2013, dozens of news organizations loudly protested to the Obama White House that journalists were being denied proper access for newsgathering. Taking collective action, the news outlets, including ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, requested “an immediate meeting” with White House officials “to resolve this very serious situation.”

    Specifically, the allegation was that the Obama White House was "routinely" excluding news photographers from presidential events that were recorded exclusively by a White House staff photographer. The administration claimed the events were “private.” News organizations countered that the White House's subsequent release of its own, in-house photos of those events on social media meant the events hadn’t actually been “private.”

    The conflict became intense. “A mini-revolt by news organisations against White House press restrictions gathered momentum Monday as USA Today joined other media shops to have declared a boycott on officially issued photographs,” The Guardian reported.

    In their letter to the White House, co-signed by 38 organizations including various news outlets, the White House Correspondents' Association, and the White House News Photographers Association, the groups wrote, “As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government."

    One National Journal headline at the time announced, “Obama’s Image Machine: Monopolistic Propaganda Funded by You.” And a New York Times photographer protested to the White House that its restrictions were “just like Tass,” the Soviet state news agency.

    Why is this collective outcry from 2013 relevant again now? And why is it worth noting the strategy news organization adopted to protest allegations of White House restrictions? Because today, those same news organizations face an incoming Trump administration that seems sure to institute new media restrictions that are far more stringent than the Obama White House's rules for photographers. Yet we don’t we hear much in terms of an organized protest.

    Back in 2013, dozens of individual news outlets joined press organizations to take strong action in documenting their grievances with the Obama White House over the photo restrictions, demanding that meetings be held and the problem solved. So why have they been so quiet and timid in terms of airing their objections with Trump?

    And no, 2013 wasn’t the only time news outlets banded together under Obama and took collective action to protest White House press limitations.

    In 2009, as a feud between Fox News and the Obama administration over Fox’s coverage boiled over – the White House labeled the conservative channel “not a news network” – the administration excluded Fox News from interviewing “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg, who was handling distribution of TARP funds during the financial crisis. The other television news networks showed solidarity by staging a “revolt” and boycotting their scheduled interviews.

    “All the networks said, that’s it, you’ve crossed the line,” CBS News’ Chip Reid reported at the time.

    And don’t forget that during the recent presidential campaign, about 17 journalists representing a multitude of news organizations joined forces and met for hours in Washington, D.C., because they were so angry with how Hillary Clinton's campaign was supposedly limiting access for journalists and they wanted to strategize about the best way to confront the campaign.

    In those three instances, when Washington journalists felt they had been slighted by Democrats, they took collective action. There were no signs of timidity. So what explains the media’s current passivity toward Trump while he seems poised to take a far worse stance toward the press?

    It’s true that the media’s 2013 protest came while Obama was in office, and that Trump hasn’t been sworn in yet. But it’s already common knowledge within the press corps that dramatic changes regarding White House access may be looming -- changes that make the complained-about restrictions on White House photographers under Obama look tame. In fact, expected Trump changes, the Times reported last month, could mean “a loss of transparency that would hinder the press’s role as a conduit for information to the people.”

    Why haven’t dozens of news organizations fired off a letter to Trump’s transition team, sternly demanding that he not abolish or diminish the presence of White House reporters? Why haven’t they demanded “an immediate meeting” with Trump officials “to resolve this very serious situation”?

    Recall that during the campaign, the petulant Trump often banned specific news organizations from his events. I don’t remember news outlets taking collective action against Trump in the spirit of all-for-one defiance. I don’t remember them boycotting scheduled interviews with Trump in solidarity with the news outlet that he had banned. Do you?

    In late 2015, several news organizations did discuss their concerns about access with the Trump campaign, according to The Huffington Post, but seemingly nothing came of it. In fact, "facing the risk of losing their credentialed access to Trump's events, the networks capitulated," BuzzFeed reported.

    Last November, after Trump ditched the press in New York City in order to go eat dinner, the White House Correspondents' Association publicly urged him to travel with a press pool, and his transition team promised it would "operate a traditional pool." Two months later, the WHCA is still trying to get Trump to establish a formal press pool that mirrors that of previous presidents. (FYI, Trump ditched the press again last month to go play golf.)

    Yet despite the stonewalling from Trump’s team, it was reported last week that the WHCA will host a reception for Trump’s communication aides in coming weeks.

    So instead of getting an angry letter denouncing press restrictions the way Obama officials did, Trump’s team is receiving social invitations.

  • Faced With Trump’s Looming Press Crisis, Media Embrace Timidity And Accommodation

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has apparently undergone a rather dramatic change in terms of how she views President-elect Donald Trump -- specifically, whether she thinks it’s OK for journalists to label him a liar when he constantly lies.

    Stressing the “huge challenge” that looms for the press to cover Trump “fairly” in coming years, Marcus joined forces with Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker, who last week insisted it’s out of bounds for his reporters to call a Trump a liar. (They run the risk of not looking "objective," Baker fretted.)

    Weighing in with her Sunday Post column, Marcus agreed that it’s just not fair to label Trump a liar. “The media shouldn’t hesitate to label an assertion false, but it should be cautious about imputing motive,” wrote Marcus, who doesn’t like the “inflammatory baggage” that comes with dubbing the president-elect a liar.

    This is rather remarkable, given the fact that last year Marcus herself wrote a column that explicitly, and repeatedly, called Trump a liar. Because he is one.

    “The past few weeks have offered Americans a chilling glimpse of three faces of Donald Trump: the stonewaller, the shape-shifter and the liar,” Marcus wrote on May 18. She conceded that it was a “strong charge,” but insisted it was “warranted.”

    How does a media transformation like that take place, considering the avalanche of lies Trump told over the course of the campaign and since his election win? How do you go from stating unequivocally that Trump’s a liar, to advocating that calling him that same thing today is somehow out of bounds and means you’re not treating him “fairly”?

    Is it because Trump will soon be president and some journalists are nervous about offending him -- nervous about appearing to be too tough on him and not wanting to be the targets of further bullying? Perhaps journalists are simply intimidated by Trump, whose political fortunes this year can be partially attributed to his gleefully mean-spirited attacks on the media.

    Over and over we’re seeing this discouraging and potentially dangerous pattern unfold: At a time when Trump and his team are ratcheting up their attempts to discredit the media, and as they stand poised to choke off all meaningful access for journalists, too many news organizations are responding with timidity and accommodation. They seem to have learned nothing from the campaign, when Trump banned certain news outlets at will while his staff herded reporters into restricted press pens at rallies.

    “Winter is coming,” is how New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has framed the looming press threats under Trump: “For a free press as a check on power this is the darkest time in American history since World War I, when there was massive censorship and suppression of dissent.”

    As is the case with so much of the press’s relationship with Trump, there continues to be a runaway normalization effort at play. Rather than Trump’s relentless assault on the press sparking a collective resistance, more and more it seems to have sparked a weird, collective acceptance.

    Just look at the media event that took place last Friday: Trump met in private with editors from Vanity FairThe New Yorker, and Vogue. He met them at the headquarters of the magazines’ parent company, Conde Nast. Trump’s confab was off the record, which is exactly what journalists should not be doing right now -- cutting side deals with Trump for sit-downs in exchange for secrecy. Instead, media outlets should be taking collective action to push back against Trump’s naked refusal to be held accountable, as well as Trump’s 19-month war on the press, not ushering him in for closed-door meetings.

    A president-elect who has refused for nearly 170 days to hold a press conference and who has essentially closed off all meaningful access to political reporters -- while constantly publicly denigrating journalists -- doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with off-the-record bull sessions.

    For instance, at their meeting the Conde Nast editors reportedly asked Trump about his plans for “health care, climate change, relations with Russia, women’s issues and abortion rights,” which are exactly the types of topics he should be asked about on the record Because right now it’s virtually impossible to understand his specific policy positions since Trump refuses to articulate them in detail.

    Besides, remember what happened the last time the president-elect had an off-the-record meeting with news executives?

    For more than twenty minutes, Trump railed about “outrageous” and “dishonest” coverage. When he was asked about the sort of “fake news” that now clogs social media, Trump replied that it was the networks that were guilty of spreading fake news. The “worst,” he said, were CNN (“liars!”) and NBC. 

    Another participant at the meeting said that Trump’s behavior was “totally inappropriate” and “fucking outrageous.”

    Meanwhile, what also occurred on Friday, after Trump met off-the-record with Conde Nast editors? He issued this stunning threat:

    So now we can add threats of congressional investigation to the long list of bullying tactics President-elect Trump has unveiled against journalists since Election Day.

    Winter is coming, indeed.

  • It’s Time To Banish “Trump Says” Headlines; They Don’t Work

    Stop Giving A Liar The Benefit Of The Doubt

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The New York Times made the same headline misstep twice in four days.

    Typing up reports based on President-elect Donald Trump’s tweets and staged announcements, the Times presented as breaking news -- and in a very Trump-friendly manner -- the contents of his latest utterances:  

    • “Trump Says He Has Hacking Information Others ‘Don’t Know'” (December 31)
    • “Trump Says Intelligence Officials Delayed Briefing on Russian Hacking” (January 3)

    Obviously, public pronouncements from incoming presidents can, and should, be treated as news. The problem with the “Trump says” formula (and similar variations) that the Times and other news outlets have adopted since Election Day is that what Trump said was, at best, either baseless or openly disputed.

    There’s no indication Trump will ever reveal new information about U.S. government allegations that Russians unleashed cyberattacks against the Democratic Party. (And it certainly didn’t happen on “Tuesday or Wednesday” this week, as Trump originally suggested.) An aide quickly downplayed the notion that Trump would even try.

    And while Trump claimed his intelligence briefing on the hacking topic was “delayed” from Tuesday until Friday, as the Times article itself makes clear, “senior administration officials disputed it, saying that no meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday.”

    Trump’s claims falling apart shouldn’t be a surprise, though, since the president-elect has shown himself to be a committed liar who will falsify all kinds of information. 

    And therein lies two ongoing problems. One: How does the press treat a new president who is a habitual liar, the likes of which we’ve never seen in U.S. presidential politics? And two: How does the press treat an incoming president whose primary form of communication is Twitter, which means he refuses to take most press questions or be held publicly accountable for his claims?

    Those parallel-track problems then produce a third one: lazy, misleading headlines that play right into Trump’s strategy of routinely lying while also being historically inaccessible to reporters. Within that sphere, I’d suggest there’s a very specific headline problem -- the “Trump says” formula. Solution? Ban uncritical, context-free "Trump says" headlines. It’s a good first step.

    Yes, most politicians, on occasion, like to bend and twist the truth to their favor. But Trump has been cracking the truth in half, and in full public view, since he entered the presidential race in June 2015. (Here’s a list of 560 documented falsehoods Trump told in the span of only four weeks during the campaign.) People like that don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt, and benefit of the doubt is what drives “Trump says” headlines.

    The headlines often revolve around what Trump has stated on Twitter. Or misstated on Twitter, to be more accurate. With no real access to him, journalists are reduced to a this-is-what-Trump-said-today style of reporting, as if they’re covering the utterances of a reclusive royal family member.

    If Trump’s tweeted claims are almost always disputed and often proven wrong, the dispute should be the headline; that’s what the news of the day is, not the fact that Trump floated some new nonsense; not what “Trump says.” If Trump tweeted that the moon was made of cheese, news organizations shouldn’t produce a “Trump says” headline for him, while also quoting experts in the article itself who confirm the moon is not a dairy-based orbital.

    As Times columnist Paul Krugman noted this week:

    Another problem is that the timid mentality behind “Trump says” headlines often leads to timid reporting.

    Note that last week Trump made news when he claimed responsibility for Sprint bringing back 5,000 jobs to the United States. Trump insisted that the jobs were coming back “because of me.”

    That boast immediately produced a rash of Trump-friendly headlines. And yes, it produced plenty of “Trump says” headlines:

    WSJ: “Trump Says Sprint Bringing 5,000 Jobs Back to U.S.”

    New York Post: "Trump says Sprint is bringing 5,000 jobs back to US”                                

    Reuters: "Trump says Sprint to bring 5,000 jobs back to U.S." 

    But those Sprint jobs were part of a previously announced, pre-election jobs initiative by the telecommunications giant. Which means this Bloomberg headline was perhaps the most accurate: “Trump Seeks Credit for 5,000 Sprint Jobs Already Touted.”

    By choking off access with the press, Trump has produced a media thirst for presidential pronouncements and tidbits of news; tidbits that now arrive on the form of inaccurate tweets. The press needs to stop rewarding Trump’s strategy with passive and misleading “Trump says” headlines.

  • President-Elect Trump Is Historically Unpopular; His Press Coverage Should Reflect That

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    There are lots of ways the political press continues to normalize President-elect Donald Trump’s often radical behavior. From regurgitating his vague tweets as news while he refuses to grant press conferences, to shying away from calling the serial prevaricator a liar, journalists continue to play nice.

    Here’s another way Trump’s getting the benefit of the doubt: He’s a wildly unpopular political figure, yet the press continues to gloss over that fact while granting him soft coverage.  

    In terms of polling data, there’s virtually no good news for Trump. The results generally point in the same direction: He’s widely disliked and inspires little confidence in his presidential abilities.

    This stands in stark contrast with characteristically stronger bipartisan approval for presidents-elect in recent decades. For instance, in 2008, "50 percent of John McCain's voters approved of Barack Obama's handling of his presidential transition,” noted an NBC News report. And as NPR reported, “Even after a prolonged recount and Supreme Court decision, George W. Bush received 29 percent approval from Democrats in 2001.” This is 14 percentage points higher than the same Pew statistic for Trump.

    Trump’s contrast with Obama in late 2008 is stunning: Obama entered 2009 with a 68 percent favorable rating. Today, Trump’s favorable rating stands at an anemic 43 percent. And if history is any indication, that rating is almost certain to go down once the new president takes office.

    A plurality of Americans think he will be a “poor” or “terrible” president. His cabinet picks enjoy historically little support, and 54 percent of adults say they’re either "uncertain (25 percent) or pessimistic and worried (29 percent) about how Trump will perform during his presidency." Meanwhile, 68 percent would describe the president-elect as "hard to like," and less than half of Americans are confident in Trump’s ability to handle an international crisis.

    Those numbers are off-the-charts awful for an American president-elect. On average, 71 percent of Americans were confident that Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton could handle an international crisis, when polled after each was newly elected. Today, just 46 percent are confident about Trump's ability to handle such a crisis.

    Modern American history hasn't seen anything like this. So what explains the press’s passive, often genuflecting coverage of Trump since November?

    “Watching the formation of Donald Trump’s presidency, the press coverage is disappointingly weak and thin,” John Dean recently wrote in Newsweek. “The news coverage of the transition of the most unqualified man ever elected to the White House is as weak and wishy-washy as it was at the outset of his campaign.”

    And as Media Matters stressed last month:

    In the weeks since Election Day, political journalism has largely fallen short both in style and substance. Journalists watching from the sidelines have been reduced to parroting Trump’s publicly available tweets -- allowing him to drive the news cycle -- and have bungled one of the most important roles the press plays during a transition period: the vetting of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominations and appointments.

    If Trump had just posted a 49-state, Reagan-esque landslide victory, I could more readily understand why the press would be acquiescing so regularly. But Trump just made history by losing the popular tally by nearly three million votes and remains, without question, the least popular president-elect since modern-day polling was invented.

    Yet members of the press seem unduly intimidated by his presence, and have even rewarded him with chatter of an invisible “mandate.” (He has none.) Noted John Nichols at The Nation, “It's absurd to claim that [Trump's] administration and this Congress enjoy enthusiastic popular support. They don’t.”

    Yes, some news outlets have highlighted Trump’s miserable standing with the public, and what the political implication might be for him this year. “Trump will enter the White House as the least-popular incoming president in the modern era of public-opinion polling,” Politico announced in late December.

    But those kinds of stories have made for spot coverage, passing reports here and there about Trump’s approval ratings. But why isn’t that the running narrative about Trump's presidential transition? Where is the endless cable news hand-wringing about Trump standing poised to be a failed president even before he’s inaugurated? Or about the mountainous challenge he faces in trying to lead a country that largely does not support him or even find him likable?

    Does anyone think that if Hillary Clinton had won in November while badly losing the popular vote to Trump, and then posted historically awful approval ratings during her transition, that story would not dominate Beltway coverage day after day, week after week?

    And don’t forget the press’s entrenched fascination with Obama’s public approval during his presidency, particularly the desire to depict “collapsing” support when, in fact, Obama’s approval rating remained stubbornly stable for years.

    There’s a glaring Trump transition story hiding in plain sight: He’s historically unpopular. The press ought to start telling that tale on a daily basis.

  • The Year Fox News Flushed Roger Ailes And His Sexual Harassment Scandal Down The Memory Hole

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    It turns out Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani aren’t the only famous Republicans who are emerging as prominent losers in President-elect Donald Trump’s transition sweepstakes. Among those who were also expected to play a potential role in shaping the new Republican administration was Fox News founder Roger Ailes.

    Touted in the press as a marketing whiz, it was Ailes who allowed Trump to use Fox as his personal megaphone for much of the last two years and actively coached Trump during his Republican primary run.

    With Ailes returning to his roots as a GOP image-maker, he and Trump seemed to represent the same side of a dark coin: paranoid, vindictive, deeply Islamophobic, and big proponents of race-baiting, especially when it comes to President Obama. Indeed, Trump mirrors the often-tasteless brand of divisive rhetoric that Ailes hallmarked at Fox for decades.

    Known for whipping up partisan fears and corralling voter suspicions of the other, Ailes is a logical choice to occupy a vaunted position on Team Trump after the election. Yet Ailes seems to have joined the ranks of the disappeared in recent weeks. (The Trump campaign quickly, and publicly, shot down recent media chatter that Ailes might be tapped for a State Department post.)

    It’s been an astonishing fall from grace, considering Ailes began the year at the peak of his powers. Watching Trump race out to a big lead in the Republican primary, and guiding Fox News through several flare-ups with the candidate, Ailes seemed poised to ride the Trump wave all year.

    And then July 6 happened.

    That was the day former Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson detailed the harassing office culture at Fox when she filed a lawsuit against Ailes, claiming he had once said to her, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.” Carlson’s lawsuit alleged Ailes sought to “sabotage her career because she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”

    Her startling allegations were many, but they were just the beginning. As Fox’s parent company launched an internal investigation into Ailes’ behavior, more women came forward with their own claims of harassment by Ailes.

    Fox’s Megyn Kelly told investigators that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances toward her a decade earlier, according to New York magazine. (Ailes resigned two days after Kelly’s allegations were reported.)

    “Current and former employees described instances of harassment and intimidation that went beyond Mr. Ailes and suggested a broader problem in the workplace,” The New York Times soon reported. “The Times spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it.”

    According to a Washington Post exposé, Ailes made “jokes that he liked having women on their knees,” and women at Fox did not want to be alone with Ailes in closed-door meetings. Also, Ailes allegedly grabbed the buttocks of a young intern in 2002 after she rebuffed his sexual advances.

    Then came the chilling report in New York magazine about former Fox News booker Laurie Luhn and her alleged years-long “psychological torture” and harassment by Ailes. Luhn alleged that Ailes “instructed her to recruit young women for him,” demanded she engage in “sadomasochistic sex with another woman while he watched,” and set her up with a no-show job. After she alleged a pattern of harassent by Ailes, Luhn reportedly signed "a $3.15 million settlement agreement with extensive nondisclosure provisions," which "bars her from going to court against Fox for the rest of her life."

    In all, at least 25 women detailed allegations against Ailes and the cable channel.

    Even Fox News’ Howard Kurtz conceded, “This has been a painful and embarrassing period for the network." Yet at the outset of the scandal, Fox News pretended Carlson was the problem, not Roger Ailes.

    Greta Van Susteren suggested Carlson falsely accused Ailes of sexual harassment because she was “unhappy that her contract wasn’t renewed.” (Months after Ailes' departure, she expressed regret for her comments.) Bill O’Reilly compared Carlson's allegations to a "frivolous lawsuit," and announced, "I stand behind Roger 100 percent." Jeanine Pirro called Carlson’s allegations “absurd” and tagged Ailes as a “no-nonsense guy,” adding, “I just loved him.”

    And Fox’s Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed she had spoken to other women at Fox and “nobody believed” Carlson’s allegations. She insisted that Ailes “is a man who champions women.”

    Trump himself weighed in, initially calling the claims against Ailes “totally unfounded based on what I’ve read,” and stressing that Ailes is “a very, very good person” and “a friend of mine for a long time.”

    As for Fox defending Ailes, two months after Carlson’s lawsuit, Fox News’ parent company reached a $20 million settlement with her and issued an apology. That concession made a mockery of the staff wide victim-blaming that had gone on at Fox on behalf of Ailes.

    Post-Ailes, were effusive, public apologies offered up to women working at Fox? Was there any attempt to make wholesale changes among top managers at Fox? Of course not.

    Instead, Fox News simply flushed the Ailes scandal down the memory hole and promoted Ailes’ longtime lieutenant Bill Shine.

    That’s the same Bill Shine who reportedly “played an integral role in the cover up” of sexual harassment claims against Ailes. Shine, according to reporter Gabriel Sherman, was involved in “rallying the women to speak out against” Ailes’ accusers. Shine also reportedly played a role in “smearing” Fox News reporter Rudi Bakhtiar, who claimed she was fired after complaining about sexual harassment.

    Clearly lessons have not been learned, and apparently being Fox News means never having to say you’re sorry. Even when your founder and archetype spends 2016 exposing the channel as a haven for sexual harassment.

  • NBC In Bed With Trump Is The Media’s Latest Grand Failure

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Can we even count all the ways that NBC’s ongoing business relationship with President-elect Donald Trump, in the form of his executive producer title for The Apprentice, obliterates virtually every common sense standard that exists for avoiding conflicts of interest and creates an impossible situation for the network’s reporters?

    The parent company for NBC News, one of the largest news organizations in America, is going to maintain its business relationship with the president of the United States; the same Donald Trump whom NBC announced last year didn’t reflect the company’s “core values,” which was why NBC publicly terminated its business relationship with him.

    But now after winning the White House, it turns out Trump is going to stay on as executive producer for the latest incarnation of The Apprentice reality show, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. And all of this we’re learning just days after Trump made a big public show about how he was going to remove himself from his business conflicts.

    We’re obviously through the looking glass with this Trump-NBC deal. Yet lots of Beltway pundits, the type who obsessed over the appearance of conflicts for Hillary Clinton during the campaign, now shrug their shoulders and suggest Trump maintaining a lucrative business association with a news and entertainment giant is no big deal.

    Unfortunately, NBC News is no stranger to ethical entanglements when it comes to Trump and the larger NBC family. In October, NBC News was caught flat footed on one of the biggest scoops of the election season when The Washington Post revealed live-microphone comments Trump had made during an Access Hollywood taping about grabbing women by the “pussy,” because when you’re a “star” you “can do anything.”

    Access Hollywood airs on NBC and executives at NBC News were told about the tape days before the Post scoop.

    As CNN reported:

    Thanks to a series of decisions that can be described as at least curious, NBC News missed out on gaining credit for the scoop of the campaign, an October surprise to put all others that have come before it to shame.

    And it has left NBC News answering questions about its hyper-cautious reaction to the tape, and pondering if it can rehabilitate the image of its recent high-profile anchor hire, Billy Bush.

    Once the disturbing tape recordings were found, NBC reportedly sat on the blockbuster story figuring out how to proceed. (By contrast, the Post published its story just hours after learning about the tapes.) But today, with Trump having an ongoing financial relationship with NBC, we’re supposed to believe there won’t be anymore potential entanglements? That’s really not believable.

    Meanwhile, recognize that over the years, NBC News treated Trump very kindly while his show was a tent pole on NBC’s entertainment lineup.

    Earlier this year during the Republican primary season, when the conservative Media Research Center was upset with how much television airtime Trump was getting compared to the other GOP candidates, the group examined NBC News’ often-cozy relationship with Trump between 2004-2015, while he was a regular presence on NBC’s primetime lineup:

    NBC has spent more than a decade building his brand as a successful businessman of almost mythic proportion. The network’s coverage of Trump was overwhelmingly and consistently positive. MRC Business found only 15 stories (out of 335) on Trump’s business failures, and 320 stories promoting him as a businessman, his businesses and his shows. The vast majority of stories were about the network’s show The Apprentice, which featured Trump … NBC News’s Today served as a de facto PR machine for The Apprentice and its star.

    It’s impossible to suggest those conflicts for NBC will soon evaporate when Trump’s sworn into office. In fact, they’ll only multiply.

    For instance, The Apprentice has been leaking viewers for years. If the show continues to lag next year, who at NBC is going to be responsible for telling President Trump that his television show has been canceled and his weekly, five-figure checks are going to dry up? What if the enraged executive producer (i.e. the president of the United States) then goes on a Twitter tirade and urges his millions of followers to stop watching NBC programs, or he starts an advertising boycott against the network?

    Conversely, what if the new Apprentice turns into a ratings behemoth? Will NBC News think twice about airing a blockbuster scandal report about Trump corruption, for instance, knowing it could damage a key NBC primetime asset?

    And remember how Trump picked that weird public fight with U.S. manufacturing giant Boeing last week? What if the next target of Trump’s free market wrath decides it needs to mend fences with the White House and buys millions of dollars worth of product placement on The Apprentice; a cut of which could end up in Trump’s pocket?

    This is just nuts. Trump’s looming business conflicts are out of control. The fact that a media company with a huge news division is part of the problem just makes it all the more distressing.

    Meanwhile, a key point is that this is just the latest in the media’s rampant normalization of Trump’s wildly abnormal behavior. Every modern-day president before Trump, and every modern-day nominee before him, pledged to make sure not only wouldn’t there be any conflicts of interest surrounding their presidencies, but there wouldn’t even any appearances of conflicts; of cashing in on the Oval Office. (Cue Richard Nixon: “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.”)

    Now Trump does the opposite by openly flaunting obvious conflicts and the D.C. press largely shrugs its shoulders. (Exceptions were appreciated.) Does the controversy surrounding Trump’s Apprentice payday constitute the pressing issue facing the president-elect’s transition? It does not. (Not when he’s tapping a climate denier to run the EPA, among other alarming moves.) But it highlights the disturbing pattern of the press routinely explaining away Trump’s unparalleled behavior.

    I mean c’mon. When President Obama published a children’s book in 2010 as president, he donated all the earnings to charity. It would have been political suicide for him to even think about pocketing the profits. And it also would’ve been the unethical thing do.

    But Trump thumbs his nose at all of that and lots of journalists just shrug while NBC stays mum? This is just the press needlessly normalizing radical Republican behavior.

  • One Month Later, Press Failing Trump Transition Test

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    In a December 2 tweet that rattled embassies on the other side of the world, President-elect Donald Trump shredded nearly four decades of U.S. diplomatic protocol when he announced he had accepted a congratulatory call from Taiwan’s president. Seen as a public slight to China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province, Trump’s move set off a flurry of international speculation and concern about America’s relationship with China, which boasts one of the most important economies in the world.

    The next day, The New York Times heralded the news on the front page: “Trump Muddies China Relations With Taiwan Call.” What was so odd about the article -- yet what’s become such a hallmark of Trump transition coverage to date -- was that the Times was unable to provide any insight into why the president-elect had made such a baffling move. “Mr. Trump's motives in taking the call, which lasted more than 10 minutes, were not clear,” the paper conceded.

    The Times didn’t publish a single quote, either on or off the record, from any Trump aides or advisers shedding light on the diplomatic controversy. Instead, the Times was left to quote Trump’s tweets on the topic of Taiwan tweets which, of course, are public and anyone can read.

    That’s extraordinary. Yet sadly it’s also become the norm during the one month since Election Day. It wasn’t as if the Trump team, by its own standards, was being unusually secretive about Taiwan. It’s simply been unusually secretive about everything, leaving the press with few avenues of information. (Remember the time, days after the election, when the caught-in-the-dark press corps didn’t know where Trump was?)

    Recall the Times’ front page on November 22, when the paper touted as the day’s biggest news offering a newly released YouTube clip from Trump in which he discussed the goals of his first 100 days. There again, locked out from any advisers with insights, reporters were reduced to transcribing the two-and-a-half-minute infomercial and treating it as breaking news (i.e. “Mr. Trump offered what he called an update on his transition”).

    Question: Isn’t that more how monarchs and figureheads are covered, not presidents of the United States? I kept asking myself that question last Wednesday when CNN’s daytime coverage for hours revolved around the image of Trump’s plane sitting on a runway in preparation for his trip to Ohio. Is the nation that eager to catch a glimpse of Trump, who lost the popular vote in November and boasts a miserable favorable rating for a newly elected president?

    Soon after the election, I warned that if journalists’ game plan in dealing with Trump was wishing and hoping that he’d change, then they’d be doomed, and so would news consumers. One month after the election, the doomsday appears to be looming larger.

    And yes, the stakes are that high. “The Trump transition has put in stark relief the very foundations of the profession of journalism in modern America,” writes historian Rick Perlstein.

    From Politico, here’s a quick reminder about how Trump openly disrespected the press this year, and will likely continue to do so:

    He did not allow the press to travel with him on his plane, which meant they were not in his motorcade and often, because of travel snafus, were left behind. He’s banned outlets for months at a time and called out specific reporters he didn’t like. And despite the years of tradition that the White House allows journalists into the building, has them travel with the president in a protective pool and that the press secretary holds a daily briefing, none of that is guaranteed in any sort of law. It is just tradition, and not many believe a Trump White House will keep that going.

    And don't forget, Trump hasn't held a press conference since late July.

    Instead of Trump’s historic lack of access prompting the press to be even more aggressive and vigilant in its coverage, we seem to be entering Stockholm Syndrome territory, where too many battered journalists seem to think that if they’re nice to Trump and paint him as a success -- as taking on big business and scoring a big Carrier jobs victory -- that he’ll stop bullying them. They hope he’ll grant them access and won’t shred all White House press protocols starting next year.

    But that ship has sailed, my friends. The best way for journalists to cover Trump moving forward is to assume they’ll never have any access. That means news organizations can, and should, stop fretting about possibly offending Trump. That opens up possibilities for detailed reporting on his sprawling web of conflicts. (Even if it arrives a bit late.)

    And they should stop dancing around the fact that he constantly tells bald-faced lies. When Trump pushed out his fantasy that if it weren’t for “millions” of people who voted “illegally” he would’ve won the popular vote, way too many news outlets simply typed up the assertions without properly stressing that Trump’s claim was categorically false. (Even Trump’s attorneys don’t believe it.)

    If the press can’t swiftly and collectively knock down this nonsense, journalists are opening the door to every conceivable crackpot claim in the near future. Is the press really prepared to play he said/he said with Trump and his surrogates about whether the earth is flat, or the moon is made of cheese? Because that’s the direction we’re heading in if Trump’s team is allowed to advance its preferred “post-truth” presidency, where there’s “no such thing” as facts.

    Meanwhile, the timid press corps really needs to stop normalizing the outlier and radical nature of Trump’s transition and the people he’s appointing. During the first month of transition coverage, when not erroneously tapping Trump adviser and white nationalist Steven Bannon as a feel-good “populist,” journalists for weeks turned away from the dark, hateful rhetoric of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been tapped to become Trump’s national security adviser.

    One week before Election Day, Flynn, a high-profile Trump surrogate in the press, tweeted out a fake news article claiming Hillary Clinton was linked to “sex crimes with children.” That, of course, is insanely irresponsible behavior for any adult, let alone a retired general, let alone Trump’s soon-to-be national security advisor.

    But for weeks, while profiling Flynn, the press politely looked away from the specific instance of him hyping a rancid allegation about Clinton. Instead, in long articles about Flynn, news consumers were told about Flynn’s “outspokenness,”  his “fiery temperament,” how he throws “sharp elbows,” and isn’t afraid to “ruffle feathers.” Those were some ways that The Washington Post, CNN, the Times and NPR categorized Flynn’s erratic behavior. Yet none of those profiles mentioned his "sex crimes with children" tweet, which seems like a glaringly obviously example of Flynn's at-times shocking behavior.

    Right after the election, the Post’s Margaret Sullivan rightfully urged her colleagues “to keep doing our jobs of truth-telling, challenging power and holding those in power accountable.”

    Raise your hand if, over the last four weeks, you’ve been awed by the Beltway media’s tireless drive to hold Trump accountable.

    Not me.