Joe Strupp

Author ››› Joe Strupp
  • Veterans’ Groups Call Out The NRA: "Don't Use Our Dead To Score Political Points"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Veterans’ groups are criticizing the National Rifle Association for releasing a pro-Donald Trump ad that was apparently filmed at a national cemetery in violation of government policy, calling for the ad to be taken down and accusing the gun group of “using our dead to score political points.”

    The ad, launched Thursday by the NRA Political Victory Fund, features veteran Mark Geist –- a survivor of the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks -- as he walks in and stands in front of a national cemetery; the graves of military personnel are featured prominently.

    During the ad, Geist attacks the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, saying, “Hillary as President? No thanks. I served in Benghazi. My friends didn’t make it. They did their part. Do yours.” The ad ends with a graphic supporting Trump.

    As ABC News reported, the ad is in apparent violation of Department of Veterans Affairs’ “strict prohibition of filming campaign ads on national cemetery property that contains the graves of military personnel, veterans and their spouses.”

    Jessica Schiefer, public affairs officer for the National Cemetery Administration, told Media Matters the NRA did not seek permission to film at a national cemetery, and that they would have rejected the request had they received one.

    “To date, the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration (NCA) has not received or approved any filming requests of this nature,” she said via email. “NCA did not receive a request from the NRA to film the subject advertisement. If we had received such a request, we would have denied it based on the partisan content. Partisan activities are prohibited on national cemetery grounds as they are not compatible with preserving the dignity and tranquility of the national cemeteries as national shrines."

    She added, “As always, our Veterans, their families and survivors are our top priority. To maintain the sanctity and decorum of VA National Cemeteries as national shrines, our filming policy states that filming may not be used for the expression of partisan or political viewpoints, or for uses that are (or may be interpreted as) an endorsement of a commercial entity.”

    NRA officials did not respond to several requests for comment, but told ABC News the ad was filmed outside of the cemetery, although they declined to reveal where exactly it was made. (The NRA’s attempt to claim the ad was filmed “outside” the cemetery makes little sense, considering Geist is shown walking among headstones.)

    In addition to the apparent violation of government policy, the NRA ad has triggered outrage among some veterans groups, who contend it is improper. 

    “Don’t use our dead to score political points,” Joe Davis, a Veterans of Foreign Wars national spokesman and an Air Force veteran of Desert Storm, told Media Matters. “We fought for everybody’s First Amendment rights and everything, but we don’t want any candidate using our dead to score political points.”

    Jon Soltz, an Iraq War Veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, responded with a statement that said, "This ad should be taken down immediately. It is insensitive to those buried at the cemetery -- most, if not all, of whom died before Benghazi, and many of whom may not have been NRA supporters. Further, it violates Veterans Affairs policy. It should be taken down."

    Despite apparently violating government policy, there is no indication the NRA plans to pull the advertisement, which is reportedly being backed by $2 million and is scheduled to run in several key battleground states over the next two weeks.

    In contrast to the NRA, several previous political ads that aired images and footage from national cemeteries were either altered or removed. In 1999, Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign aired an ad featuring unauthorized footage filmed at Arlington National cemetery -- the campaign apologized and recut the ad to remove the footage. More recently, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) pulled a 2014 ad that was filmed at a North Dakota veterans’ cemetery.

  • Media Experts Rip CNN For “Profoundly Disturbing” Lewandowski Hiring

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Veteran journalists and media ethicists are slamming CNN for hiring former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a paid contributor, saying his hostile treatment of the press and the lack of clarity over whether he signed a nondisparagement agreement with the campaign make his hiring a “new high of immorality.”

    Lewandowksi, who was fired by Trump on June 20, has long had a troubling relationship with reporters, including being investigated by police in March after grabbing the arm of reporter Michelle Fields, threatening to pull credentials of CNN’s own Noah Gray, and being accused of making “unwanted romantic advances” and “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists.”

    CNN has already been widely criticized for hiring Lewandowski. In interviews with Media Matters, several media observers and veteran journalists added their voices to the chorussaying the move raises ethical issues and harms CNN’s credibility.

    “CNN’s decision to hire Lewandowski is problematic in a number of ways,” said Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former editor of The Miami Herald. “First, and perhaps most important, is his failure to respond to the question about signing a nondisparagement agreement, which can only be interpreted as meaning that he did sign one.”

    Lewandowski was asked in his first interview as an official CNN contributor whether he signed such an agreement, and he dodged the question.

    “Unless and until he can counter that interpretation, he must be perceived as being totally compromised in his commentary -- put bluntly, a Trump shill,” Fiedler added. “But even putting that issue aside, the fact that CNN would give a prominent platform (not to mention a paycheck) to an individual whose personal and professional behavior includes bullying and misogyny at best and assault at worst, baffles me. Can his insights into the presidential campaign and into the candidates be so valuable as to enable CNN to overlook this well-documented record?” 

    Former CNN White House correspondent Frank Sesno, who is currently director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, said hiring Lewandowski is different from other former political operatives joining a network.

    “In this case, CNN has hired an outspoken adversary of journalism,” Sesno said. “Someone who has challenged its role, attacked reporters and represented a candidate who was openly hostile to journalism and the First Amendment itself.”

    Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University and author of the book New New Mediasaid hiring Lewandowski “is a new high of immorality in the relationship between our media and our political system.”

    He later added, “It would be one thing if he had just been fired for whatever reason, things happen. As we know, and CNN covering all of the details, Corey Lewandowski was investigated" for the incident with Fields. "The police got into it, it was a serious issue and that combined with the fact that Lewandowski’s relationship with the Trump campaign even now isn’t clear.”

    For Tim McGuire, former Arizona State University media professor and past president of American Society of News Editors, CNN’s hiring of Lewandowski is “profoundly disturbing. The terms of that agreement are crucial. If it truly is a nondisparagement agreement this hire is totally wrong.”

    Clark Hoyt, former New York Times public editor and one-time Washington Bureau chief for Knight Ridder, said he was “surprised that any news organization with aspirations to credibility would hire Cory Lewandowski in any capacity.”

    Hoyt also said, “His well-documented hostility to journalists and the role of a free press aside, he comes to his new role as a paid political commentator bound by some kind of contract with Donald Trump. Whether it contains a nondisparagement clause or not, it bars Lewandowski from disclosing exactly the kind of information that a news network should be trying to get to help inform voters. CNN ought to put up a disclaimer every time he appears on camera.”

  • How The Media Helped Donald Trump Boost His Candidacy

    Harvard Professor Gives Insight Into New Shorenstein Report About How The Media Helped Trump And Hurt Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The author of a new Harvard study on the media’s coverage of the presidential primary says the press clearly helped Donald Trump on his path to becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.

    This week, Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy released a detailed report on the media’s coverage of the presidential race in 2015, the year leading up to the first primaries. The study found that “Trump is arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee. Although he subsequently tapped a political nerve, journalists fueled his launch."

    The study’s author, Harvard professor Thomas E. Patterson, told Media Matters in an interview that the massive amount of Trump coverage -- as well as its largely positive tone -- predated Trump’s rise in the polls and “helped position him to make a stronger run.”

    “In the past, to get a lot of coverage pre-Iowa you had to be pretty high in the polls, and they started to give him heavy coverage when he was way down there, in the single digits,” Patterson said in an interview. “It is virtually impossible when you go back through all the races before 2016 when you were in a multi-candidate field and you were down where he was you are almost an afterthought to journalists.”

    The study looked at coverage of the candidates prior to the caucus and primary votes by Fox News, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

    Equating the Trump coverage to advertising dollars, Patterson’s report found that Trump received about $55 million worth of positive and neutral coverage in the eight outlets studied, well ahead of the second place candidate, Jeb Bush, at $36 million.

    “It’s gold, it works in every way in [his] favor,” Patterson said. “As you start to go up in the polls, there is a circular pattern, you can raise money and it becomes easier to pull voters into your column. What was abnormal was this extraordinary amount of attention Trump got early on even though he did not appear on paper to be a credible candidate. He was far down in the polls, but he made statements that made for great stories.”

    The study found that all eight of the news outlets studied gave Trump predominantly positive or neutral coverage, from The New York Times, where 63% of stories about Trump were positive or neutral, to USA Today, which led the way with 74%.

    By the same token, Clinton received largely negative coverage across the eight news outlets during 2015. The report argues of this disparity, "Whereas media coverage helped build up Trump, it helped tear down Clinton. Trump’s positive coverage was the equivalent of millions of dollars in ad-buys in his favor, whereas Clinton’s negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end." 

    Patterson pointed to reporting on Clinton's use of a private email account while secretary of state and Republicans' ongoing focus on the 2012 Benghazi attacks as two of the most negatives stories.

    “In her case, the emails and the questions about the emails, how big an issue is this actually, that was a big part of her coverage,” Patterson said. “Benghazi was a bigger part of the news early on and then she had that day-long session with Congress that a lot of people thought she did quite well with. Of all the candidates of recent decades who have been front-runners, she has had the strongest headwinds of negative coverage.”

    But Patterson said the press may have over-covered the email issue and failed to put it in proper context.

    “How big an issue is the email controversy in the context of the candidate’s preparedness and ability to be president of the states?” he asked. “I think you would get some who say it is a molehill into a mountain. My own sense is that as a standalone issue the emails are pretty small potatoes in the realm of presidential preparedness. It has been a common practice in Congress and among cabinet officers to combine them one way or another. She is not an outlier on this and you could ask why the press has not brought that part of the story into it.”

    Patterson added that even apart from those controversies, Clinton’s “substantive issue coverage was more negative than the other candidates.”

    Despite the helping hand the media gave Trump during the primaries, Patterson notes that “in the past few weeks, Trump has gotten the kind of press scrutiny that if it had come earlier it would have been a drag of some kind on his candidacy, perhaps enough to make it hard for him to go into the convention with a majority.”

  • Former White House Press Secretaries Fear Trump Could Poison White House Press Relations

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Former White House press secretaries are concerned about how a Donald Trump administration would treat reporters, telling Media Matters that based on his behavior during the presidential campaign, Trump would have a “very, very poisonous” relationship with the press while in office.

    Trump and his campaign have repeatedly targeted the media during his run, including banning critical reporters from events, pledging to “open up” libel laws if Trump takes office, and repeatedly denigrating reporters with personal insults.

    Three former top presidential spokesmen said Trump’s approach, including his recent decision to revoke campaign press credentials for The Washington Post, is unprecedented.

    “If I ever imagined that a national candidate could say ‘we’re going to bar The Washington Post from the campaign plane,’ I would have just said that’s physically impossible, it can’t be done,” said Mike McCurry, a former Bill Clinton press secretary from 1995 to 1998. “You can imagine he would recreate the relationship between the White House press corps and the president if he got elected, to distribute information and content on the terms of the White House and not necessarily what the press demands, and that is a distinct change in the adversarial relationship that exists.”

    McCurry added, “At the end of the day the American people have to trust the information they get from the president and the White House so the real issue is what relationship of trust is going to exist in the distribution of the information that the White House needs and should provide because the public does have a right to know, and I think that’s a very legitimate question to ask Mr. Trump and to get his views on it. Picking and choosing who gets access to the presidency and the White House is not something that I feel the president should be comfortable undertaking.”

    Ron Nessen, who was Gerald Ford’s press secretary and a former reporter for UPI and NBC News, said, “banning The Washington Post is totally, totally beyond me.”

    “I think he would have a very, very poisonous relationship with the press,” Nessen added. “He obviously is somebody who has grudges and doesn’t think much of the press. … It would make it very difficult for him, he’d be under constant criticism I think and at the same time he would be constantly criticizing the press. And that would be a terrible relationship and it would affect what the people know about their president and what he’s doing.”   

    Jake Siewert, a Clinton press secretary from August 2000 to January 2001 and deputy press secretary prior to that, said Trump’s actions would face stiff opposition from the White House Correspondents Association.

    “The White House depends in large part on a good working relationship with the White House Correspondents Association and needless to say they frown on that sort of retaliation,” he said about the Post ban. “I think the White House Correspondents Association, because they have organized themselves and have a certain amount of leverage with the White House press office, it would be more of a battle.”

  • Journalism Rights Groups Fear Trump’s Threat To Press Freedom

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Journalism groups and media reporters warn that a Donald Trump presidency could do serious damage to press freedom.

    Throughout his campaign, Trump has launched a series of attacks on the press, ranging from personally attacking reporters to barring critical outlets from covering his events to promising to “open up our libel laws” if he’s elected. Trump also has a long history of suing or threatening to sue critical journalists, and he and a top ally have both invoked the prospect of enacting retribution against media using the government.

    Last week, The New York Times cited legal experts explaining how Trump's "blustery attacks on the press, complaints about the judicial system and bold claims of presidential power collectively sketch out a constitutional worldview that shows contempt for the First Amendment, the separation of powers and the rule of law."

    In interviews with Media Matters, journalists and press freedom experts raised several concerns about how a President Trump would deal with the media. 

    “I’m definitely concerned about reporter rights under a Trump presidency,” said Amy McCullough, president of Military Reporters and Editors and news editor of Air Force Magazine. “It’s really nothing new for presidential candidates to criticize the press, but there already have been too many incidents of credentialed members of the media getting arrested or violently thrown to the ground by security at Trump rallies just for doing their jobs. This is unacceptable and sets a dangerous precedent for a Trump presidency. We cannot pick and choose which constitutional amendments we choose to support.”

    She added, “The First Amendment gives Trump and his supporters the right to peacefully voice their discontent with the media, but it also protects freedom of the press. Opening up libel laws and threatening to retaliate against news agencies or specific reporters is detrimental to the very ideals our democracy was founded on. Reporters need to be able to ask the tough questions and hold government leaders accountable for their actions without worrying about being thrown in jail or violently attacked.”

    George Freeman, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, agreed.

    “If you think about the way he is behaving, he is more likely to be a libel defendant than a plaintiff, he says pretty nasty things about lots of people, either by accident or not,” said Freeman, who also spent 31 years at The New York Times as assistant general counsel. “There will be way too much drama that is inappropriate for a president. He is belittling a reporter, he doesn’t like an article, he may bar a reporter from the next press conference. Too much of this beating up on journalists and attacking them. Too much drama with the press that will not be good for the president or for the press or the country.”

    “His goal is to make the press as an institution look bad and belittle it and that is a lose-lose,” he added. “We have no idea how he is actually going to act in office, it is hard to predict. But if he continues to act as he has it is an unfortunate result for anyone.”

    Carlos Lauria, a senior program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, “politicians have the right to criticize the media, but … when they insult and use repeated insults and they incite supporters to threaten journalists, the impact on press freedom is real.”

    Lauria, whose organization focuses mostly on press freedom in other countries, said Trump’s approach reflects that of many other foreign leaders known for abuse of power and anti-press approaches.

    He cited Ecuador President Rafael Correa, who is known for insulting journalists and creating repressive press policies.

    “He often calls them ink hit men, liars, mediocre, whatever. That’s bad,” Lauria said in an interview. “In countries where politicians have engaged in this charged rhetoric against the press, there have been consequences.”

    Jennifer Royer, a spokesperson for the Society of Professional Journalists, said Trump’s actions raise concerns and indicate he seems “to think journalists, simply because they ask questions, are sticking their noses where they don’t belong. As you know, it is a journalist’s job to ask questions, seek the truth and report it in an effort to keep the public informed. Newsmakers -- especially people in the public spotlight -- should know this and expect it from good journalists.”

    Sarah Glover, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said, “Just as Mr. Trump is entitled to his opinion, a journalist's job is to ensure the public is made aware of what's within their right to know. The law of our land says it best, and most prominently, for emphasis: ‘Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting ... freedom of the press.’"

    Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker, said Trump’s anti-press approach is worse than Richard Nixon.

    “He has gone beyond Nixon to call for amending the libel laws to make it easier for anyone to sue the press,” Auletta said in an interview. “There’s a lot wrong with the press and worth criticizing, but we have a function in democracy which is to hold people accountable and ask sometimes tough questions. … We are among the least popular institutions, but we are supposed to provide a very valuable role in democracy.”

  • The Hill Dumps Dick Morris After He Takes Job At National Enquirer

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI & JOE STRUPP

    The Capitol Hill-based newspaper The Hill has dropped laughingstock Dick Morris as a columnist after he signed on with the National Enquirer as its chief political correspondent.

    In a statement to Media Matters, a spokesperson for The Hill wrote: “In light of Dick Morris' new position at the National Enquirer The Hill has decided to discontinue his column at The Hill. We wish him well.”

    Morris’ dismissal from the paper is long overdue. In December 2012, several Hill staffers told Media Matters that the columnist lacked credibility in light of his faulty predictions, with one saying: "I think everyone at The Hill views him the way that people outside The Hill do. He is a laughingstock, especially the way he acted in this last election."

    Morris, an ethically challenged pundit best known for his erroneous political forecasts, will become the chief political correspondent for the publication that helped bring him down in the 1990s.

    National Enquirer touted the former Clinton adviser turned Clinton foe’s hiring in a press release, claiming it “underscores our commitment to investigative journalism. … He greatly values our commitment to delivering the kind of quality content that our readers have come to trust us for.” Morris said that the publication is “one of the few journalistic outlets that has the courage to publish the truth.”

    His political predictions include claiming Mitt Romney would win the 2012 election in a “landslide”; it’s “very possible” President Obama would drop out of the 2012 race; the 2008 election would feature Condi Rice vs. Hillary Clinton; Clinton would drop out of her 2006 U.S. Senate bid because she’s afraid of challenger Jeanine Pirro (Pirro dropped out amid a poll showing her losing by over 30 points); and Rick Lazio would defeat Clinton in the 2000 Senate race (he lost by double digits).

    Morris’ contract was not renewed by Fox News in early 2013. New York writer Gabriel Sherman reported that "Morris's Romney boosterism and reality-denying predictions became a punch line" inside the network.

    Indeed, many of Morris’ former Fox News colleagues mocked him as "often wrong," a self-promoter, and "creepy." He was rebuked by a Fox executive after he attempted to auction off a Fox News studio tour to benefit a local Republican Party group.

    The National Enquirer has endorsed Trump and has become a source of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton information. It is run by David Pecker, a close Trump friend. The Washington Post noted that Trump and the tabloid have a “very cozy relationship” and “Trump has written several articles for the Enquirer during the campaign.”

    Morris’ new job with the Enquirer is an odd pairing given their history. Morris resigned “from the [Clinton] Administration after Star reveal[ed] his affair with a prostitute” and the National Enquirer and Star alleged in 1996 he “has a longtime mistress and a 6-year-old daughter with her.” (The Enquirer and Star are both owned by Pecker’s American Media Inc.)

    Morris’ first column unsurprisingly appears to be bogus. The New York Post reported that it will run next week and “claims that Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server was actually hacked twice while she was secretary of state. ‘It was revealed in a footnote in the inspector general’s report,’ he told Media Ink.” Morris previously claimed Clinton’s server was hacked twice in a column on his website. In reality, as Vox notes, the inspector general’s report “doesn't turn up any evidence that Clinton's emails were successfully hacked or compromised” -- just that there were attempts.

  • Veteran Journalists: Trump Coverage “Devastating” For News Credibility

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    As networks bask in higher ratings and elevated ad rates thanks to the deluge of coverage devoted to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, media observers and business news veterans warn that outlets are doing serious long-term damage to their credibility.  

    In February, CBS chairman Les Moonves celebrated at a conference how Trump’s role in the presidential race was helping CBS line its pockets with political ad money, saying, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” He added, "I've never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going."

    Meanwhile, CNN’s obsessive Trump coverage has reportedly led to complaints from network employees. But according to The Huffington Post, network president Jeff Zucker has waved off concerns, telling employees that there had been “too much handwringing” about how the media and CNN had handled Trump.

    While Trump may be making news executives happy right now, many media observers and business news veterans tell Media Matters that outlets are dropping the ball with their Trump coverage. 

    According to David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times investigative reporter who has written several pieces critical of Trump in recent months, “News organizations do lasting damage to their long-term credibility by covering the presidential campaign on Trump’s terms rather than from the perspective of the public interest.”

    He added, “There is a rich record to be mined, but only a few people are digging and most of those are highly focused on this specific gem, not the whole. It’s the duty of journalists to collect the many loose threads of Trump’s life and weave them into the fabric of narrative that gives meaning for readers, listeners and viewers.”

    David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun media reporter, also said the open-ended coverage with little or no fact-checking or editorial judgment is dangerous for news outlets.

    “When [viewers] start to sense or believe it is a kind of game, that the cable channels aren’t really covering this as news and it is really about other reasons, people can get cynical and have long memories about that,” he said. “It is especially dangerous for CNN, who is doing well and getting ratings but doing it indiscriminately. And being the cable channel with the most credibility to lose, they are long term the ones who could be hurt worse by this. This is a dangerous game for them.”

    Michael Hiltzik, a Los Angeles Times media columnist, called Moonves’ comments “devastating” for CBS.

    “In terms of its position as a carrier of the public interest, it is a concession that it doesn’t have the public interest in mind," Hiltzik said.

    He later said, “The cable networks have already lost credibility because they have had so much difficulty in dealing with Trump’s approach, they have been very bad at challenging his misstatements, his lies, giving the audience the proper context.”

    The New York Times on Monday called the coverage “a struggle” for networks, adding, “the television news industry is wrestling with how to balance fairness, credibility and the temptations of sky-high ratings as it prepares for a presidential matchup like none other.”

    And they are not alone in that view.

    “The rules of journalism still apply. It has to be credible and offer the proper context,” said Jeremy Smerd, editor of Crains New York and a former politics reporter. “That is something news outlets have to be worried about in terms of credibility. When they start buying into the talking points of the Trump campaign it undermines their credibility.”

    He later added, “News outlets need to do more than be his amplification, they need to be his filter, Donald Trump continually changes his message and it is hard to know what he really means.”

    “It almost completely erases the distinction between news value and entertainment values,” said Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. “The news media adopting him as an asset and as a crowd pleaser and as a magnet for audience hits. It confers stature on him and wins him supporters with the coverage he is getting, credibility and a seriousness about him as a candidate when there is nothing in his record that satisfies that.”

    He added, “This is going to go down as one of the historic [press] failures, on a par with the run up to the Iraq War. The press has not bothered with him as a serious candidate.”

    Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for The Poynter Institute, said the presidential campaign “is more like a reality show than the pundit class would like to admit. Some of the errors like broadcasting so many of his rallies live and settling for phone interviews were a product of that.”

  • The Breitbart Team Turned An Anti-Clinton Smear Book Into A Terrible Documentary

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The upcoming anti-Clinton documentary Clinton Cash largely rehashes the shoddily-researched conspiracies from the 2015 book on which it’s based.

    Media Matters attended a screening of the film Thursday in New York City ahead of its release. Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon – who co-wrote and co-produced the film -- were on hand to promote it to an audience that included Fox News personalities Bill Hemmer and Brian Kilmeade. 

    When the book -- which largely pushes the evidence-free claim that while serving as secretary of state, Clinton did favors for foreign entities that donated to the Clinton Foundation -- was published last year, Schweizer, a Republican activist with a history of factual problems, was criticized by Media Matters and other outlets for a series of sloppy errors. Some of the errors were later corrected in the Kindle version of the book. 

    Clinton Cash also heavily relied on innuendo in the absence of solid proof for its central allegation that the Clintons have traded favors for money. As Slate writer Jamelle Bouie put it, “Peter Schweizer’s attack on the Clintons leads with his conclusions and never connects the dots.”

    The film has many of the same factual problems. For example, a key accusation lobbed at the Clinton Foundation in the film in order to undermine the idea that it does important charitable work is the claim that only “10 percent” of its donations actually go to charity.

    Schweizer repeatedly relied on this talking point while on the Clinton Cash book tour last year, claiming that other than the 10 percent the Clinton Foundation gives to “other charitable organizations, the rest they keep for themselves.”

    But the “10 percent” statistic is deceptive -- even Fox News labeled it “incredibly misleading.” Network correspondent Eric Shawn explained in a report last year that the Clinton Foundation doesn’t “give grants to other charities. They do most of it themselves." He also cited IRS figures indicating the foundation has a "rate of spending of about 80 percent" and "experts for charity say that's very good.”

    The film uses big headlines and grainy news clips to paint the Clintons as being in the pocket of anyone who pays for a speech or donates to the Clinton Foundation, but still fails to connect the dots with substantial evidence.

    “You have money coming at certain times and then you have policy decisions that are made that affect the people that sent the money, then people are left to the question: is this all coincidence or is this a case of follow the money,” Schweizer told Media Matters after the screening. “I just don’t believe it’s coincidence.”

    The film doesn't feature interviews with sources or people with direct knowledge of the events that Clinton Cash claims prove a quid pro quo arrangement. 

    “That was intentional,” Schweizer said about the missing outside voices. “We simply wanted to narrate the stories as they came through and explain to people how it rolled out. We didn’t want it to be talking head.” 

    Following the screening, Bannon said the film is going to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, and that the producers are “in discussions with people approaching us to get this out before the [Democratic] convention.”

    Bannon added, “We may cut a TV deal with a broadcast or a cable network like Yahoo or Netflix, we are in discussion with people to get this out to a broader audience.” He later joked, “We’re open for bids right after this.”

    He said the movie “cost a couple million bucks” to make, but did not elaborate on the funding sources.

    Schweizer claimed the documentary is not designed to just throw “red meat” out to a conservative audience, instead suggesting the filmmakers are trying to dissuade people outside the Republican party from supporting Hillary Clinton. 

     “This is really designed to appeal to people in general, who may not know much about how the Clintons have operated,” Schweizer said. ”You can have a business model that says ‘let’s throw red meat out there that make a lot of money,’ or you can create a documentary film that’s designed to inform people who may not necessarily agree with your point of view and get that information out.”

    When Bannon was asked by an audience member about the reaction to the book, he turned defensive, claiming the mainstream media was ignoring the findings. He also criticized the Democratic primary debate panelists for not raising any of the issues in the debates.

    “12 to 14 debates, 35 to 40 hours of prime time debates, not one question about anything in this film,” Bannon said. “That’s an indictment on the mainstream media and that’s an indictment of everybody who had a debate.”

    Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has recently indicated that he plans to use the claims from Clinton Cash in a likely general election matchup with Clinton. In an interview with Breitbart News this week – where Schweizer also serves as senior editor-at-large – Trump called the Clinton Cash book “amazing” and said he is sure the movie “will be good” because of Bannon’s involvement.

    Breitbart News has faced widespread criticism over the past year for its Trump cheerleading. Last year, Buzzfeed reporter McKay Coppins reported that “many” people inside Breitbart “believe Trump has provided undisclosed financial backing to the outlet in exchange for glowing coverage.” (Bannon called the allegation “a lie.”)

    After the screening, Schweizer said Trump and his campaign had “zero” involvement with the film, and said that because of his role as president of the non-profit Government Accountability Institute, “we are not allowed to do that.” 

    When asked what he thought of the reaction the book got and if he was disappointed with all of the criticism, Schweizer said, “I think we got good media coverage. Some people in your organization have disagreements on some of these matters, the interpretations."

    Media Matters’ fact check of Schweizer’s book can be read here

  • Veteran Campaign Reporters: “The Stakes Are Too High” To Let Trump Get Away With Constant Lying

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Veteran campaign reporters are calling on media outlets to sharply increase their fact-checking of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, telling Media Matters “the stakes are too high” to let Trump get away with peddling conspiracy theories and near-constant falsehoods.

    In the week since Trump’s win in the Indiana presidential primary essentially clinched the nomination for him, the candidate has faced criticism from media critics and fact-checkers for his continued embrace of outlandish conspiracy theories. CNN’s Brian Stelter on Sunday called on journalists to confront Trump “head-on” over his misinformation. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler hit a similar note in a May 7 article, writing that outlets have “no excuse” to let Trump get away with falsehoods.

    In conversations with Media Matters, Kessler and several veteran presidential campaign reporters highlighted the sheer tonnage of misinformation from Trump, with several arguing that outlets need to be more aggressive when challenging the Republican.

    “The Trump lies are so many and they come out at such a rapid fire, Gatling-gun fashion, it is hard for the reporters to keep up in May. I can just imagine what it will be like in October,” said Walter Shapiro, who covered nine presidential campaigns dating back to 1980 for The Washington Post, Newsweek, Salon and others. “The most important thing is that you don’t put the fact checks in some separate envelope done by the fact-check expert. You have to put as many fact checks as you can in the story of the speech, in the story of the assertion and if necessary don’t resort to euphemisms, like ‘misspoke.’ He did not misspeak, he did not obfuscate, he did not miss the meaning -- he lied.”

    Trump’s falsehoods and conspiracies have piled up over the course of the campaign, running the gamut from his repeated (and often unchallenged) boast that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning to more bizarre claims like his recent embrace of a National Enquirer conspiracy linking Sen. Ted Cruz’s father to JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

    “These are totally different problems than we have ever faced before,” Shapiro said about covering Trump. “I give lots of news organization in the months ahead a lot of latitude because we have never dealt with someone for whom truth is as dispensable as Kleenex in politics.”

    He said part of the problem is when news outlets carry Trump speeches and rallies live, which by nature prevents immediate fact-checking.

    “The problem is if the networks are going to give you one hour of unedited access a night, there is no way for the fact checks to catch up,” he said. “There are dictators who control the media who have less access than he does.”

    David Yepsen, a former top political reporter for the Des Moines Register for 34 years, said news outlets need to “double-down on fact-checking” as the campaign continues.

    “News organizations can take each one of these statements apart,” Yepsen said via email. “They can't be blown off or dismissed. The tone has to be calm, factual, but dispassionate and methodical. Reporters need to keep the focus on Trump and his statements.”

    He later added, “It is also going to be critically important to get this debate out on social media. It's more important than a lot of reporters want to admit because more and more people are getting information about the campaign in this way.” 

    Adam Clymer, a former New York Times campaign reporter from 1977 to 2003, said the lack of scrutiny in the past is due to time pressures and poor editing, but that cannot continue.

    Asked how journalists can counter him going forward, Clymer said, “By repeating after every time he says it that ‘Mr. Trump has offered no evidence of his theory that has been debunked by X, Y, or Z.’”

    “Somebody’s got to be responsible,” Clymer urged. “Everything about his substance becomes more important when someone may be the nominee.”

    He added, “Since Trump makes more stuff up than most people, he becomes a particularly glaring example of the press’ shortcomings. Do the basic job, which is different than what they have been. But it is not just reporters, don’t let editors off the hook at all levels.”

    “He is off the charts,” said Kessler, who writes The Fact Checker column for The Washington Post.

    Of the 34 fact-checks done on Trump in the column, nearly 70 percent have resulted in four Pinocchios, which is the site’s worst rating, Kessler said. “Your average politician gets 10 percent to 20 percent of their ratings as four Pinocchios.”

    At PolitiFact.com, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking site, 62 percent of Trump comments that were reviewed received either False or “Pants on Fire,” its worst rating.

    Angie Holan, PolitiFact editor, says no other 2016 presidential candidate even comes close.

    “The results are the results, he’s wrong pretty regularly,” she said. “He gets small details wrong, too. He said the trade deficit with China is $500 billion. It’s not, it’s $300 billion. That’s quite a bit to be wrong. You add up wrong on big things and wrong on little things and that’s how he gets such a bad record.”

    Kessler agreed the answer is for reporters to increase their scrutiny as they would any unreliable source 

    “He says this stuff and keeps saying it,” Kessler said. “There is little excuse for not saying something to him when, for instance, he says he was against the war in Iraq or that Hillary Clinton started the birther movement -- things that have been fact-checked and found to be bogus.”

    And Trump’s falsehoods are nothing new, according to people who covered him in the 1980s when he was a rising real estate mogul and New York gossip page regular.

    Among those was Susan Mulcahy, former editor of the New York Post’s Page Six from 1983 to 1985. She recently penned a piece for Politico recounting his history of lies.

    Her advice to today’s campaign reporters who must cover him through Election Day: “Every statement that he makes has to be checked. Even mundane, innocuous things.”

    She suggested treating him as a lawyer would a witness on the stand, saying “be prepared for answers to some of the questions ahead of time,” later adding that lying “doesn’t bother him, he has been doing this for so long.”

    Walter Mears, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Associated Press campaign reporter, said the challenge is for journalists to scrutinize him more than most candidates because of his poor factual record.

    “It requires more homework covering a guy like this, and the trouble with Trump is you never know what he is going to make up next,” Mears said. “It is not argumentative to say that Trump is lying, it is not argumentative if you state the actual fact.”

    Clark Hoyt, a former reporter and editor for Knight Ridder and McClatchy -- who covered presidential races in 1968, 1972, and 1976 -- said Trump’s level of dishonesty is unprecedented in American politics and requires a demand for truth.

    “If he says something that is demonstrably false it should immediately be called that. We have an obligation to even point out the history of these things, that this has been a pattern with Trump and not to let readers or viewers forget it. The stakes are too high,” said Hoyt, also a former public editor for The New York Times. “You have to be prepared to say what he says and then say what the truth is. That puts a great burden on news organizations to be really fast on their feet with research and the resources to dig into some of these things.”

    Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute, said reporters need to stick to the basics and not let lies pass by unchecked.

    “He does seem to say a lot of things that just simply are not true,” said Tompkins. “He has a very high negative and part of that negative seems to be his demeanor, but also whether or not he can be trusted.”

    Media Matters recently highlighted several other examples of journalism experts and veteran reporters calling on the media to fact-check Trump more effectively: 

  • Inside The Industry Manufacturing The Lies You Hear Every Day

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    In April, Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters released Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. The book lays out the “carefully concealed but ever-growing industry of organized misinformation that exists to create and disseminate lies in the service of political agendas.”

    I recently spoke with Rabin-Havt about the group of people -- and their enablers -- feeding false narratives into the media, how we’ve entered an era “where truth doesn’t exist,” and how to fix the problem.

    The below conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    The book is titled Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics. What does that refer to?

    Well it refers to two things. It refers to a group of people who I found in this book are at the center of creating a lot of the lies you see permeating through the conservative media. A group of people who have come up with everything from death panels to the notion that children raised by LGBT couples have worse outcomes than children raised by straight couples. It’s a recognition that a group of people exists to create lies for both ideological and financial profit with the express intent of distorting the public policy process. That’s Lies, Incorporated.

    The post-truth refers to the fact that because of this group and because of the media environment that this group feeds off of, we now exist in a world where truth doesn’t exist. Where there’s a truth on the right and a truth on the left, and instead of having debates about issues, we have debates about what is true and what is false, and that’s not a debate that advances us as a country.

    And this is a group that not a lot of people realize exists, with an agenda to argue against the facts?

    Sometimes a group of people, “experts,” who are paid to create the facts, who are paid to manufacture the facts with the express intent -- and this is what’s interesting -- not of advancing their cause, but of taking us to a draw, keeping us at the status quo. It’s not about advancing an ideology, it’s about keeping everything locked in place.

    Because there are certain people who benefit from that, whether it’s a certain political party, or a certain business?

    It’s a certain ideology, it’s a certain business, it’s a certain faction, it’s sometimes a group of people. Sometimes the issues are barely connected. A lot of the scientists who worked against the notion that tobacco causes cancer had issues that were completely unrelated. Some were cold warriors who simply believed that any regulation was a step towards communism. One prominent tobacco scientist was a eugenicist who believed that cancer was caused by genetics and therefore couldn’t be caused by tobacco.

    The book opens with the story that in 1957 the tobacco industry really started it.

    The tobacco industry, they were patient zero here, they really launched this world. What happened is the barons of the tobacco industry met at the Plaza Hotel with John Hill, who was the head of Hill & Knowlton, the legendary public relations firm. John Hill sat them down and said, “You have to stop this advertising that says our cigarettes are the healthiest, you have to cut that out. What we need you to do is start arguing with the science that says cigarettes are unhealthy. And how you do that is we form this Tobacco Industry Research Committee and we do our own science that speaks to our needs.”

    What’s interesting is John Hill knew cigarettes are unhealthy. How do we know that? Because John Hill quit smoking prior to this meeting because of its impact on him.

    You cover a lot of issues in the book, such as cigarettes, climate change, guns, immigration, and abortion. Which issues among the ones in the book seem to have the biggest offenders?

    They’re all very different. The thing I would like to look at is that these lies have an impact on people. We think about death panels for example. This woman, Betsy McCaughey, made up death panels.

    That was in the Affordable Care Act debate.

    That was horrible, right? But the truth is why it’s horrible is because people aren’t getting insurance today because of that lie. Who isn’t? Well, there was a story in the Washington Post that quoted two women who qualified for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but weren’t getting it and were paying out of pocket for expensive out-of-pocket costs and when they asked them why, one put her fingers in the shape of a gun and implied that it was death panels.

    You cite several conservative outlets from Fox News to The Daily Caller to Breitbart. What is the role that the right-wing media have in spreading these lies?

    Some of it is laziness, some of it is people are biased towards lies that conform to their world views and confirm their world views. They make us comfortable, they make us feel good. We go to media that doesn’t educate us, that makes us feel good about living in our own world.

    My friend Clay Johnson wrote a book a few years back called The Information Diet. In it, he talks about how pizza tastes better than broccoli. If you had a pizza pie in front of you and a plate of steamed broccoli, which one do you want to eat? Well, 99 percent of people want to eat the pizza. But we know that you can’t just eat pizza, you need to eat your broccoli, too. The fact is, we know that in our food diets. On our information diets, people believe and just ingest only pizza, and that’s part of the problem.

    Has that gotten better or worse in recent years?

    I think it’s gotten worse. Part of the reason is we have a media structure now where you don’t have to get any information other than the information you want.

    Our world now is a world of unlimited bandwidth. Which in the end it is better to have more voices in the process, it’s better to have a world where somebody can create a site like Daily Kos, like Breitbart and rise up based on the ability to attract an audience -- that’s not a bad thing. The question is, if your only source of news is somebody like Breitbart, it’s going to distort your world view.

    Why do you think the Lies, Incorporated group has so much success with these right-wing outlets?

    Sometimes they work for them. You look at certain right-wing outlets, and you’ll see members of Lies, Incorporated writing and working for them. Sometimes it’s because these liars are spreading lies that conform to that world view. And part of that is, a lot of this world blossomed over the past seven years. In the past seven years, we had a Democrat in the White House who was pushing for change that leaned progressive, which meant the people fighting that change were conservative, which meant Lies, Incorporated, whose goal is to keep the status quo in place, was fighting against that. I think that creates the world that you’re talking about.

    How much does the mainstream media enable these lies?

    I think they occasionally do. I think some of it is when you have the ‘he said-she said’ version of reporting, it enables the lies. It’s also enabling to the lies to sometimes just broadcast them in general. Putting Betsy McCaughey on TV at all, even if you’re doing it to call her out, enables her lies. The question is, how do you then structure your coverage, and this is part of the solution, is media need to bear responsibility for broadcasting lies and for putting liars on television. And when they do, this will help to start to solve this problem.

    You mention false equivalency in the book, in which every story has to have two equal sides.

    Sometimes I feel like public policy stories end up getting covered like AP sports stories. An AP sports story has a similar model every time. Two teams played, this was the score, quote from winning team, quote from losing team, close story. When you try to cover public policy that way, you invariably end up injecting lies into the equation.

    People can have differences of opinion. We can look at similar data and have a different view on what that data means. That happens all the time. And there should be differences and we should have a debate about those differences. And we should come to the best conclusions. But the data should be the data and should be upheld and truth should be truth and we should hold it up and we shouldn’t allow people to inject lies in just because they’re doing it under the cover of politics.

    Which lies are the worst culprits on the false equivalency?

    The one that I think rises above all else is climate change, where the false equivalency for years put climate deniers who had no standing in the scientific community at the same level as scientists and in fact advanced some climate deniers further because they weren’t interested in science and accuracy, they were interested in spinning politics.

    Why does it still stick when there is overwhelming scientific agreement that there is man-made climate change?

    The lies are sticky, when people believe what they believe it is very difficult to convince people to look at truth when they have a firmly held belief in their head.

    What is the way to counter this?

    Part of it is a media solution, not giving liars a platform to lie and not allowing them to grow in the media. Part of it is making sure there is a transparency in how issues are covered. Part of it is making sure we don’t cover public policy like we’re covering basketball.

    If we did those three things alone, it would weaken Lies, Incorporated because the practitioners of Lies, Incorporated are hackers, they’re hackers of our small “d” democratic process.

    Hackers exploit weakness in computer systems. These democracy hackers exploit weakness in our media and public policy systems recognizing that they can inject themselves into the debate. Like a patch on a piece of computer software, by closing those loopholes and vulnerabilities, we can shut them out of the system.

    How are these liars making money doing this?

    Some of it is grant money from conservative institutions, some of it is speaking fees, some of it is writing a best-selling book. Some of it is they hold positions that allow them to make money and do this ideologically. Some of them are independently wealthy.

    What is the biggest surprise people might find from the book?

    How interconnected this world is. How all these people kind of all come from the same kernel. How all of this is an interconnected web designed to distort democracy. And how we actually, this is going on behind the scenes and how little coverage it gets.