Joe Strupp

Author ››› Joe Strupp
  • Network Sources Deny Trump Claim That He Dictated Number Of Primary Debate Participants

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Donald Trump claimed on Saturday that he had pushed networks to host an odd number of candidates during Republican primary debates in order to ensure that he would not have to share center stage with another candidate and “usually won.” Network sources flatly deny that this happened.

    While Trump was placed in the center during the debates on CNN, CNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, CBS and ABC, the choice to place him there and the number of candidates onstage was determined by polling data, not his request, those sources say.

    “We determined position based on poll numbers,” CNBC Spokesman Brian Steele told Media Matters. Other sources at the networks also said such an approach has been standard during recent campaign cycles and had nothing to do with Trump or any other candidate’s demands.

    Trump said during a speech Saturday in Waterbury, Connecticut, that he fought to be in the center by himself and “I usually won that fight, but not always.”

    See his full comment below:

    DONALD TRUMP: Every single debate I was on center stage, and the only thing I asked of the debates were I want an odd number of people. You know why? When it was an even number I was on center stage with somebody else. In other words, if we had five I was in the center, if we had six I was sharing it, I didn't like that OK? So I'd fight, and I usually won that fight, but not always. But I was center stage, I was number one, on every single debate. 

    But sources at several of the networks said that placement and number of candidates was based on polling only, and had been for the past few campaign cycles.

    A CNN spokesperson declined to comment, but referred Media Matters to the network’s reporting on their debates that indicated participation would be based on set, previously announced criteria. 

    The articles state that participation in the CNN December debate was based on “the average of the national polls from November and December,” while the CNN February debate in Houston was based on the delegate count for the first four nominating contests. 

  • Law Experts Shoot Down "Silly" "Nonsense" Attacks On Merrick Garland As Anti-Business

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Conservative claims that Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland’s rulings prove he is anti-business are "silly" "nonsense," according to administrative law experts who spoke with Media Matters.

    Earlier this month, the Koch-backed National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released a “scorecard” of Garland’s rulings as a judge on the D.C. Circuit. The group claimed its scorecard proved Garland “is quantifiably biased in favor of regulatory agencies and against private sector businesses” because he often ruled in favor of several government agencies.

    But as Media Matters previously explained, the scorecard is misleading and not evidence that the nominee is somehow outside of the legal mainstream. In fact, many of the decisions NFIB highlighted for criticism were rulings in which Garland was joined by Republican-appointed judges, and the conservative group’s attempt to provoke outrage over Garland’s record ignores crucial legal context.

    Top legal experts who spoke with Media Matters pointed out that in most federal appeals cases involving governmental agencies, the court sides with the agency under the Chevron Deference doctrine, which “raised the issue of how courts should treat agency interpretations of statutes that mandated” agency action, where the “Supreme Court held that courts should defer to agency interpretations of such statutes unless they are unreasonable.”

    “If you look at cases involving direct regulation by government agencies, his pattern of voting in those cases is entirely standard,” said Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School. “It’s the common approach because ever since the Chevron decision the idea has been that Congress can’t always address all of the details that arise in the regulatory state so they give a lot of leeway to expert agencies in deciding how best to carry out the underlying purpose that Congress had in enacting statutes. Therefore, the idea is when agencies resolve those ambiguities in ways that are at least rational and don’t cross any boundaries that are laid down, federal judges usually defer.”

    Joseph Landau, associate professor at Fordham Law School, agreed.

    “The Supreme Court has said that if the statute is unclear, courts should defer to the agency’s interpretation of the federal law as long as the agency’s interpretation of the statute is reasonable,” he said. “If the statute is unclear, and the agency is interpreting the statute, courts have generally held that the agency gets deference. There are exceptions, but deference is the presumption.”

    Jon Michaels, a UCLA Law School professor and a former clerk for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, pointed out that the man Garland is seeking to replace, Justice Antonin Scalia, was a strong supporter of the "Chevron Deference" doctrine.

    He also said the D.C. Circuit Court usually rules in favor of the government agencies because it cannot turn down cases and must review even the most unlikely claims.

    “The court is limited in what it can overturn,” Michaels added. “The court is not supposed to substitute its preference on questions of an agency’s interpretation of law, fact or policy.”

    William H. Simon, Arthur Levitt Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, called the NFIB attack “silly.”

    “It's silly to conclude that he is 'biased,'” Simon said. “The law says judges are supposed to defer to the agencies on many issues. A reluctance to overrule the other branches is a defining characteristic of a judicial 'moderate', which is what many in both parties say they are looking for.”

    Osamudia James, a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law, said, “When Judge Garland or any judge comes in and says they side with the agency, they are saying that based on the statute that Congress set up, what the agency is doing is reasonable.”

    She also cited that many Republican-appointed judges agreed with Garland. “That is an interesting part of this to see who sided with him,” she added. “Other Republican judges are in agreement with him. That undercuts attacks that Garland is excessively pro-regulatory.”

    For Daniel Selmi, professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, the criticism of Garland is “nonsense.”

    “The court reviews what the agency has done based on the administrative record and in doing it, it exercises the standard of review,” Selmi explained. “Which is favorably inclined toward the public agency. They win a majority of the cases. That wouldn’t be abnormal and it wouldn’t tell you anything about bias, it would tell you he is following the law.”

    Joseph A. Grundfest, a law professor at the Stanford Law School, added that Garland’s opinions are “entirely unremarkable and reflect no bias either for or against regulatory agencies or private sector entities.”

  • Questioned By Media Matters, Roger Stone "Vehemently" Denies His "Negro" And "C*nt" Tweets Were Racist And Sexist


    Questioned by Media Matters, Roger Stone acknowledged that he deleted a series of sexist and racist tweets he had sent about media figures, but “vehemently” denied that they were actually sexist and racist. The Trump ally also criticized the media outlets that banned him over his crude commentary, and said he has “no idea” why Fox News host Megyn Kelly -- who has a “nice set of cans,” according to an old Stone tweet -- has not hosted him on her program recently.

    Media Matters reporter Joe Strupp interviewed Stone before he spoke Monday at New York City’s Federal Hall National Memorial for City & State’s Great Debate. Stone heads the pro-Trump super PAC Committee to Restore America's Greatness and has been under fire for his plan to disclose the hotel room numbers of Republican convention delegates who are purportedly trying to steal the nomination from Trump.

    Stone has also been criticized by conservatives and liberals for his outrageous tweets targeting media figures. He wrote (among many other things) that commentator Roland Martin is a "stupid negro" and a "fat negro," New York Times columnist Gail Collins is an "elitist c*nt," MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is "Rachel the muff-diver," CNN's Ana Navarro is “Borderline retarded” and an “Entitled Diva Bitch,” and Fox's Allen West is an "arrogant know-it-all negro." He mocked writer Charles Krauthammer for being paralyzed, and tweeted "DIE BITCH" at former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson.

    CNN and MSNBC have both banned Stone from their airwaves. Stone has pointed the finger at the “book burners at Media Matters for the bans.

    Stone has since deleted many of those tweets. Asked by Media Matters at the Great Debate event about removing the tweets, Stone said, “Some of them were perhaps intemperate, but I, of course, vehemently deny that they were either racist or sexist.”

    While Stone has not been banned from Fox, he hasn’t appeared on Kelly’s program in two months. Stone was formerly a regular guest on The Kelly File, having appeared on the show four times in January and February (February 19February 10February 1, and January 21), according to a Nexis transcript search. The appearances stopped after news surfaced about Stone’s crude Twitter attacks, which were first noted by Media Matters on February 22 and 23.

    On the February 28 edition of Fox News’ Media Buzz, host Howard Kurtz noted that “Stone, who has also appeared on Fox News in recent months, has made disparaging physical comments about Megyn Kelly and Charles Krauthammer in the past.” He added that “Stone should be asked about these tweets the next time he shows up on Fox.”

    Stone acknowledged to Media Matters he hasn’t appeared on The Kelly File in a while, but said he had “no idea” if Kelly had been barring him from appearing on the show. Stone has recently tweeted at Kelly asking to appear on her program. He has continued to appear on other Fox News and Fox Business programming.  

    Back in 2011, Stone tweeted (and recently deleted) that Kelly has a "nice set of cans.” In response to a 2013 question from FishbowlDC about whom he would pick to have dinner with -- "NBC’s Brian Williams, CNN’s Roland Martin, ABC’s Sherri Shepherd or Fox News’ Megyn Kelly" -- Stone picked Kelly because she’s “hot." Last month he tweeted his desire to take her out for a drink.

    Stone told Media Matters that any media organization that bans him “exposes that they're not a media organization.” But the Trump backer said he wasn’t upset about his cable news bans, concluding that “there are dozens of other media outlets.”

    Stone is still a fixture on fringe conservative radio, including appearing as a regular guest on Alex Jones’ conspiracy show.

  • How Journalists Are Grappling With The Rampant "Bathroom Bill" Misinformation In North Carolina

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    North Carolina journalists tell Media Matters that covering the state’s controversial House Bill 2, which stripped nondiscrimination protections from LGBT residents, has been especially challenging due to the amount of fearmongering and misinformation spread by the law’s proponents.

    In a day-long special session on March 23, North Carolina’s legislature introduced, passed, and enacted HB2, a bill that restricts transgender people's bathroom access and “nullified local ordinances around the state that would have expanded protections for the LGBT community.” It was quickly signed by the state’s Republican Governor, Pat McCrory.

    Since its passage, HB2 has come under intense criticism and sparked protests and backlash -- including companies pulling business from the state, editorial boards at state newspapers condemning the law, and performers like Bruce Springsteen canceling planned North Carolina concerts.

    The law is most widely known for its provision targeting the transgender community, requiring people to use the bathrooms that correspond with the sex designated on their birth certificate. HB2 applies to restrooms, locker rooms, and showers in public buildings, which includes schools and public institutions of higher education. Proponents falsely claim laws like this are needed to prevent sexual predators from sneaking into women's restrooms by claiming to be transgender.

    The onslaught of lies and fear-based claims about "bathroom predators" have challenged local news outlets' reporting on the law, according to journalists from some of the state's largest news outlets.

    Rick Gall, news director at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, said countering the misinformation is a major challenge.

    “One of the biggest things that the supporters of the law have stated is ‘we did this to protect families, particularly women and children in restrooms,’” Gall said. “There’s certainly not a lot of evidence to indicate this has been a major problem in the past. We ask if this is fixing a problem that really existed.”

    He described much of the fear-based claims as “Doomsday-type scenarios,” adding, “we cannot be purveyors of … some wild accusations.”

    As Media Matters has repeatedly pointed out, there is absolutely no evidence to support conservatives’ fearmongering about transgender “bathroom predators.”  

    “The biggest challenge in covering this is that so much of it is dealing with speculation and fear,” said Brent Wolfe, news director at North Carolina Public Radio. "There have not been cases of a problem" with letting transgender people use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

    Fayetteville Observer executive editor Michael Adams agreed that countering the false claims adds to an already complicated story.

    “We have indicated there is no evidence of that. We include that to say that this was done despite the fact that there was no evidence that this has caused problems.”

    He cited the fact that Bank of America Stadium, the Carolina Panthers home field, and TimeWarner Cable Arena, home to the Charlotte Hornets, had already allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

    Adams said any such problems at those locations have been “non-existent as far as I can see.”

    “There’s been a lot of misinformation put out by the side that passed it, that this is just a bathroom bill to protect the privacy of the bathroom, but there is a lot more to this law than that,” Adams added.

    Katie Wadington, news director of the Ashville Citizen-Times, echoed that view.

    “It is a matter of finding counter views that aren’t fear-mongering,” according to Wadington. “We are trying to get as much of the truth out there as we can.

    Wadington also stressed the importance of highlighting other troubling provisions in HB2. “The transgender portion is the part that is getting the headlines, but there are other angles,” she said.

    In addition to its anti-LGBT provisions, HB2 removed the rights of many residents to sue on the basis of age and gender discrimination, and it prohibits any North Carolina municipality from raising its minimum wage.

    “We’ve tried to point that out repeatedly, report that this is much more than a transgender bill, much more than a bathroom bill. All of the things with the biggest impact are not about what bathroom you can pee in,” said Jeff Gauger, editor and publisher of the Greensboro News & Record. “We have tried to put before our readers more what is in this law.”

    Several journalists singled out misleading claims from Gov. McCrory for criticism.

    Gall explained his station posted a lengthy fact-check of a “Myths vs Facts” document about the bill put out by McCrory’s press office that was riddled with “several factual problems.” (It was given the lowest possible rating on the outlet’s fact checking scale.)

    “We have to be careful that we don’t become a sounding board for something that is inaccurate, misleading and there is plenty of that out there on this story,” Gall added. “We have tried to report stories that explain what the law really is. When some prominent individuals have made major claims, we have gone and looked at what are the facts, is that a fair representation?”

    Dan Barkin, senior editor at The News & Observer of Raleigh, also cited the "Myths vs Facts" put out by the governor's office.

    “The narrative that was being promoted in the first few days by the McCrory administration was that this really didn’t take anything away from localities, it didn’t take away any rights,” Barkin said. “A plain reading of the legislation really took away that narrative.”

    Barkin pointed to several related PolitFact posts done in partnership with News & Observer, including one that rated as “false” McCrory’s claim that the new law had not “taken away any rights that have currently existed in any city in North Carolina.”

    Rick Thames, executive editor of the Charlotte Observer, said many of the official voices for the pro-HB2 side have been misleading: “Supporters of the bill often suggest that they’ve done nothing to interfere with the rights of LGBT citizens and those citizens have recourse at the federal level. But it invalidated the ordinances across the state that were protections for people who believed they were discriminated.”

    Many newspapers statewide, as well as news outlets around the country, have relied on the Associated Press for much of the information on the new law.

    Tim Rogers, AP’s Carolinas news editor, said his reporters have focused not only on the details of the bill, but separating the real facts from the false claims.

    “The key there is to stick to what you can prove and stick to what you can show,” Rogers said. “We’re going to experts and reach out to experts on the issue.”

    He said the best way to challenge false claims is “by pushing back on characterizations, pushing back when someone is characterizing it and says ‘isn’t it this way?’ We are doing a lot of that.”

    Early on, AP’s Carolinas team, based in Raleigh, issued a fact sheet on the bill to all AP clients and members. It not only laid out the details, but raised questions, such as how the law will be enforced.

    “It’s been a difficult story to cover,” Rogers said. “To make sure what you are putting out there is accurate and not falling victim to spin.”

  • Washington Post Brushes Off Clinton Email Reporting Error: "Mistakes Are Made"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The Washington Post does not plan to change its policy on anonymous sourcing despite a major reporting mistake on the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails.

    On March 27, the paper published an extensive front-page story on "How Clinton's email scandal took root." The article originally claimed, "One hundred forty-seven FBI agents have been deployed to run down leads, according to a lawmaker briefed by FBI Director James B. Comey."

    After a wide range of outlets trumpeted the detail about the "one hundred forty-seven" agents, the Post issued a correction to its story, noting, "Two U.S. law enforcement officials have since told The Washington Post that figure is too high. ...  the officials say the number of FBI personnel involved is fewer than 50."

    Asked by Media Matters whether the Post planned to review its policy on the use of anonymous sources in light of the error, deputy managing editor Tracy Grant said via email that even with good reporting and vetting, "mistakes are made and when that happens we correct quickly and completely." Grant added that the paper does not think the error warrants an overhaul of sourcing procedures:

    "The Washington Post's policy on confidential sourcing states clearly that we prefer named sources over unnamed sources, but it also acknowledges that sometimes people will only speak on the condition of anonymity. Nothing is published from an unnamed source without at least one editor knowing who that source is. In this case, two senior editors knew who the sources were. Sometimes, despite rigorous reporting and vetting, mistakes are made and when that happens we correct quickly and completely as we did in this circumstance. We are always open to looking at our procedures for ensuring the integrity of our journalism, but this case does not cause us to feel that a policy change is necessary."

    Post executive editor Martin Baron did not respond to a request for comment.

  • Oklahoma Bombing Trial Reporters: Merrick Garland-Led Case "Reinstilled Faith" In American Courts

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Reporters who covered the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh praised Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland's work as a Justice Department official on the case, with one saying the successful prosecution "reinstilled faith in the American criminal justice system."

    Garland, currently chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, was serving as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice when the case went to trial in 1997. McVeigh was eventually convicted for his part in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that left 168 people dead.

    Those who covered the case said Garland, who oversaw the choice of the prosecution team and organized much of the evidence and gathering of witnesses, showed professionalism and a keen legal understanding that helped the prosecution win convincingly. 

    "I was impressed," Nolan Clay, a veteran Oklahoman journalist who was the hometown paper's lead reporter on the trial, told Media Matters. "He came down here and he was involved in the very first hearings and he chose the prosecution team and he chose a bunch of spectacular people."

    Clay added that Garland "had the O.J. Simpson trial in mind and he didn't want people who would make names for themselves. He let them do the case and did not micro-manage them. He insisted that search warrants be done properly. He did it very much by the book."

    Clay recalled the initial appearance before the court by McVeigh on April 21, 1995, two days after the bombing.

    "Garland was there and made sure reporters and some members of the public could come in and see it," Clay recalled. "It was a public airing and he wanted it done by the book. I was impressed by that." 

    Here's video of Garland speaking at that April 1995 appearance, from the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum via The Oklahoman

    Asked about Garland's fitness for the Supreme Court based on his experience, Clay said, "He clearly shows he is a people person. Consensus building is usually what it takes and I think he'd be good at that."

    "He was sort of behind the scenes. Super-intelligent and the prosecution was pretty successful," said Paul Queary, who covered the trial for the Associated Press. "The prosecutor always seemed highly-organized and they were particularly attuned to the sensitivities of the victims' survivors and the families of the people who were killed."

    The case took on an added workload because it was moved to Denver to avoid the possibility of a biased jury and because the courthouse in Oklahoma City had been damaged by the bombing itself, which occurred next door.

    Queary added, "The lead prosecutors were from outside Oklahoma and I assume were picked by [Garland]. I thought that their general level of decorum and professionalism in that case was really high. There was a fair amount of grandstanding from the defense on that case, charismatic Oklahoma and Texas defender types. There were a lot of concerns at the time that the bombing was so close to the legal community in Oklahoma, it was right next to the federal courthouse, he chose an elite team from out of town for that purpose."

    Queary said of Garland's Supreme Court nomination: "I'm not aware of any reason to object to him. If that is a reflection of his competence then it is a fine reflection."

    Richard A. Serrano, a former Los Angeles Times reporter who covered the trial, also wrote a 1998 book about the case. He said Garland's work was a key element in the successful prosecution.

    "He was head of the criminal division so he oversaw the prosecution, he assembled the team and helped coordinate evidence and subpoenas and search warrants, he also had the Unabomber at the same time," Serrano said. "It was very streamlined, very dramatic and he brought a lot of victims to testify. They obviously did a good job. Very methodical and very well put together."

    He also said that the prosecution brought the case to trial within two years, which is very unusual: "Some trials take forever to bring to trial. When you think about the military commissions that go on forever, it says a lot." 

    Maurice Possley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Chicago Tribune reporter who covered the case, described it via email as a "well done prosecution. Tightly focused. Carefully presented. Powerful."

    "Clearly, it was a great prosecution team given they had a brutal case to prosecute and this was occurring at a time when we had recently come out of the whole O.J. Simpson case and we had an amazing federal judge and a spit-a-polish prosecution team that did not have an easy case," said Peter Annin, a former Newsweek correspondent who reported on the trial.

    He added that Garland "was closely following the case and was checking in daily and doing a lot of interviews with reporters on background, he was following the case closely enough to do that."

    Annin said it "reinstilled faith in the American criminal justice system in the wake of the circus of the O.J. Simpson trial."

  • Legal Scholars: Reading Anti-Gun Bias Into Merrick Garland's En Banc Vote Is A "Dangerous" Assumption

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Legal experts at some of the nation's top law schools told Media Matters that Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland's vote to rehear a gun-related case years ago cannot be held up as evidence that he is anti-gun.

    On Wednesday, President Obama nominated Garland -- currently the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia -- to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Even before his nomination was announced, the discredited right-wing group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) was laying the groundwork for conservatives to oppose him over his purported views on the Second Amendment.

    In a March 11 post for National Review, JCN chief counsel Carrie Severino argued that Garland has a "very liberal view on gun rights" in part because he voted in 2007 in favor of the full D.C. Circuit Court rehearing an unprecedented case on Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban. She added that this vote for the full court was somehow indicative of his desire to overturn Justice Antonin Scalia's D.C. v. Heller decision, which upended precedent a year after the D.C. Circuit case and laid down new constitutional rules for the Second Amendment.

    Shortly after Garland's nomination was announced, the National Rifle Association tweeted a link to Severino's piece to label Garland "bad on guns." JCN also released a set of "topline points" after the announcement falsely claiming Garland had voted "to uphold D.C.'s very restrictive gun restrictions."

    The idea that Garland is somehow anti-gun based on the 2007 vote that predated Heller has since spread through right-wing media.

    But legal scholars disagree.

    In 2007, the D.C. Circuit decided the case Parker v. District of Columbia, which challenged the constitutionality of Washington D.C.'s ban on private handgun ownership. In the 2-1 decision, a D.C. Circuit panel of three judges ruled that the ban was unconstitutional.

    Garland did not participate in that decision.

    Garland's involvement came after the D.C. government asked for the case to be reheard en banc, which meant in front of the entire appeals court. In a 6-4 vote, the court declined to rehear the case, without explanation. Along with his conservative colleague Judge A. Raymond Randolph, Garland was one of four judges who voted to rehear it. 

    Legal scholars stress to Media Matters that a rehearing vote should not be taken as evidence of how a judge would rule in the case.

    "A vote to rehear a case can be based only on the importance of the issue and the need to have the full court address it or it can be because the issue is a complicated and confusing one that demands the clarity provided by a discussion of the full court of appeals," said Andrew Bradt, assistant professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. "It doesn't at all indicate a pre-judgement that the panel's decision was wrong."

    "A vote to rehear a case en banc by a judge who was not a member of the original panel does not provide evidence of that judge's views on the merits," said Steve Burbank, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. "It usually indicates that in that judge's opinion there are aspects of the case that are sufficiently important or sufficiently difficult to warrant consideration by the full court."

    He added that, "en banc review is a necessary safeguard to ensure that panels speak for the court as a whole."

    Sherman L. Cohn, a professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center and a former D.C Circuit law clerk, agreed.

    "A vote to re-hear, or not to re-hear, by a judge who did not sit on the original panel, is a dangerous way to predict how that judge would vote," Cohn said via email. "Sometimes the vote to rehear is because the judge does not believe that the original, panel decision was strong enough or clear enough - and not because the judge disagrees. When I was a law clerk on that very court (1957-58), I saw that happen."

    Marin K. Levy, an associate professor at the Duke University Law School, has written on the issue several times. She said assumptions based on a rehearing vote are often incorrect.

    "A judge's vote to rehear a case en banc can indicate many things apart from a desire to have the case decided differently on the merits," she said. "For example, a judge might think that the issue is sufficiently important that it should be decided by the entire active court and not simply a three-judge panel. Or a judge might think the outcome was the correct one but that the reasoning to reach the result was flawed."

    She later added, "There are many reasons why one would want to rehear a case en banc and so a judge's vote in this context should not be taken to necessarily mean he would have voted for a particular outcome."

    Dan Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law said, "All it really means is that he thought the case deserved consideration by the entire court, not just the three judges who heard it initially. He might have disagreed with it, or he may have thought that it conflicted with other precedents or rulings from other courts, or just that it was a very important issue." 

    He added, "If they ever had a hearing, senators could ask him about this!"

  • Media Critics: Networks Should Hang Up On Trump Phone Interviews

    "Trump Has Become His Own Executive Producer"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    News outlets that allow Donald Trump to eschew on-camera interviews in favor of phone call-ins are being criticized by television news veterans and media critics who say the format gives Trump an upper hand and can diminish the interview.

    Networks have faced criticism over letting Trump call in to shows for months. In September, Huffington Post senior media reporter Michael Calderone explained that thanks to the phone format, Trump "can better control the conversation when he's not facing his interviewer on camera. It's easier for him to speak over the host to change the subject, or to refer to notes."

    The issue returned to the spotlight this week after Trump had been scheduled to do a series of interviews on major morning news shows via satellite, but switched to phone call-ins after he reportedly "didn't like the look of the live shot."

    Several networks allowed Trump to call in, but CBS This Morning declined, citing the show's policy against phone interviews.

    Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace has also barred Trump from calling in to his program, but that has not stopped other Fox shows from allowing Trump to stay off camera and on the phone. According to a count by BuzzFeed, television news outlets have interviewed Trump by phone "an unprecedented 69 times in the last 69 days."

    This week, Media Matters launched a petition calling on news networks to stop conducting phone interviews with Trump.

    Observers contend that a call-in interview lacks the balance of a face-to-face exchange because the audience and the interviewer are not allowed to see Trump's expressions and reactions. They say it is also more difficult to follow-up and put the subject on the spot to answer questions more directly.   

    "It's definitely better because you can control it, you can ask follow-up questions," David Zurawik, media critic with The Baltimore Suntold Media Matters. "On a phone it really shifts control away from the interviewer, I don't think anyone can dispute that. I was really glad CBS said no, but I think the cable channels are addicted to the ratings."

    David Folkenflik, media reporter for National Public Radio, agreed.

    "It is a signal of the extent to which the television cable networks contort themselves to accommodate Trump because he is such an unpredictable and explosive figure," he said, adding, "The first order is you want to get somebody in person, so the interviewer and person are together. The anchors and the producers control the setting. You want to do it in person, or on camera remote. When things get really dicey is when you can't do that. Television is a visual media, you want to see their facial expressions, it is worth having that. Trump is so expressive." 

    Folkenflik and others said many outlets are willing to have Trump on by phone because he gets ratings, but say that is not an excuse.

    "They know when Trump comes on ratings spike up. I don't think programmers are too desperate to put John Kasich on a cell phone for an interview," he said. "They let his rallies and other events be on the air for long stretches of time with minimal interruptions because they just don't know what the guy is going to say. There are other candidates -- there are other candidates in the other party and they are not getting anything like that."

    Marvin Kalb, a long-time former NBC News Washington correspondent and one-time Meet the Press host, praised CBS for declining to let Trump call in and said others should do the same.

    "Hooray for CBS," Kalb said. "The way in which this has emerged, Trump has become his own executive producer in American television. The networks appear obediently to go along with his call."

    "It is television and you want to see things," he added. "In his case, he is asking for something that is very special, he is changing the rules of the game, you want to ask yourself why? From the network point of view, it ought to be news value."

    In an interview with Media Matters last month about the media's general failure to properly scrutinize Trump, former New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt called foul on the phone interviews, saying, "Broadcasting and cable maybe aren't being as tough as they should be. I have questioned having him on by telephone, it's deferring to him in a way, letting him set ground rules that they don't for others. You do not see his demeanor and it is not the same as having him sit across from an interrogator."

    Frank Sesno, a former CNN White House correspondent and current director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said this week that the limited access is a negative.  

    "When Trump is on the phone he can talk over the interviewer, he can do it in his pajamas," Sesno said. "He can get so much free airtime that it starts to challenge us as journalists as to what our role is in providing free media for the candidate."

  • Conservatives Tell Media Matters Why CPAC Is Not Pro-Trump Territory

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    When Donald Trump appears at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday, he can expect an unfriendly reception from many of the media and elected officials at the annual right-wing gathering. (Update: After this article was posted, Trump pulled out of his scheduled CPAC speech.) In interviews with Media Matters, CPAC attendees labeled the Republican front-runner a "problematic" non-conservative who is "waging a hostile takeover" of the Republican Party.

    Trump's momentum toward the Republican nomination for president has sparked a civil war within the conservative movement, with many right-wing figures fighting with each other about the business magnate and his candidacy.   

    "I'm not a supporter. ... I will do everything I can to see that he is not the nominee," syndicated radio host Dennis Prager, who is backing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), told Media Matters. "I would rather nominate someone who has a lifetime track record of the values I care about than someone who has none of the values I care about until the last few years."

    Dana Loesch, a veteran conservative commentator on Radio America and TheBlaze TV, also said she backs Cruz over Trump.

    "I have concerns about his policies," she explained. "I feel as though some of his polices and some of his answers are good, but he keeps going back to the well too often of government being the answer as opposed to the private sector. That's kind of where I have a concern. I don't like calling people the P word for women's genitalia."

    Loesch was among several CPAC attendees who questioned Trump's conservative beliefs, as well as his apparent flip-flopping on issues.

    "I would not count myself as a supporter," conservative radio talk show host Tim Constantine said about Trump. "The unknown factor is that what he said now is different from five or 10 years ago. Is he making a sale or is that his core belief? ... I don't see Donald Trump as a uniter."

    TheBlaze Radio Network morning host Skip Lacombe agreed.

    "I don't know who I'm going to get," said Lacombe. "I don't know if I'm going to get the guy who spoke 10 years ago or the guy who's speaking now."

    Rev. Ben Johnson, U.S. Bureau Chief of, took issue with Trump's history of "offensive" remarks: "He's a problematic candidate with the number of offensive statements he has made. Rubio and Cruz have a stronger pro-life record."

    The anti-Trump venom was clear during a Republican debate watch party Thursday night in the main CPAC ballroom that drew hundreds of attendees. When Trump appeared on the big screens, the booing and cat-calling was heavy, while Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio received mostly applause and cheers among the CPAC crowd.

    Fox News host Sean Hannity, who opened the viewing party, asked the crowd to give their view of each debate candidate via applause. Trump's name was the only one to elicit strong booing.

    Rumors of a walkout when Trump appears Saturday morning have also been circulating the conference. 

    Conservative media hosts were not the only anti-Trump voices at CPAC, as several elected officials urged opposition to his candidacy.

    Ken Cuccinelli, the former Republican Virginia attorney general who now heads the Senate Conservatives Fund, said, "I'm a Cruz supporter, Cruz is better."

    He later added, "Cruz would bring us in a conservative direction finally. I think that's what we really need as a party and certainly as a country."

    He said of Trump: "He's not a conservative and Ted is, that is a huge difference. With the departure of Dr. [Ben] Carson from the race Ted is the only conservative." 

    But when asked if he would serve in a Trump administration if asked, he said, "we'll look into it when he gets there."

    Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) also questioned Trump's conservatism.

    "We all know that Donald Trump is not a conservative," he told reporters. "But at CPAC we need to talk about the things that bring us together.

    "I don't think anyone knows what Donald Trump's core principles are. I don't think Donald Trump knows what Donald Trump's core principals are," he said.

    Sasse, who has said he won't vote for the businessman even if he's the Republican nominee, added that Trump is "waging a hostile takeover of the Republican party."

    Rep. Steve King (R-IA) also said he supports Cruz over Trump: "He's a full spectrum constitutional Christian conservative, I know that's in his bones and what he's made of."

    Trump did have some supporters among the media ranks at CPAC, but they were few and far between.

    "I've been a Trump guy, I'm endorsing Trump," said radio host Lars Larson. "If I can get two things out of this president, one is build the wall. The second thing, I want him to negotiate hard with Iran and with our trade partners."                         

    Rusty Humphries, a USA Radio Networks talk show host, also backed Trump.

    "I like him," he said. "The country has been starving for leadership. We put in the Tea Party, we elect all these people and nothing gets done."

    John Fredericks, a radio host at three D.C.-area stations, agreed: "He's a disrupter with the elite, establishment, money donor, bankster class that are beholden to the global open border cheap labor crowd."

  • Veteran Journalists And Historians Rip "Pathetic" And "Fawning" Media Coverage Of Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The national press has not questioned Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump nearly enough on his vague policy proposals and has done an equally poor job examining his business and personal record, according to veteran campaign reporters and historians who called the media's Trump campaign coverage "pathetic" and "fawning."

    As Trump solidifies his lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, historians and journalists who have covered several presidential elections tell Media Matters that Trump has so far managed to avoid facing the kind of intense press scrutiny usually devoted to a leading presidential candidate. While several experts said that some print outlets, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have provided solid, in-depth reporting, their good reporting has largely been drowned out by television and cable news outlets, which are stuck in a ratings contest and constantly broadcasting Trump speeches, rallies, and interviews, allowing the candidate to dictate the conversation.  

    Some of the experts also note that television outlets are often too preoccupied with Trump's latest outrageous comment to do the necessary substanative reporting on him.

    "It's pathetic," said Eric Engberg, a former CBS News correspondent who covered numerous presidential campaigns. "There has not been a single, decent good biography question asked. The reason for that is that Trump is smart enough to know that if he gets out in front of the media with some outrageous statement, he backs up their ability to follow up the outrageous statement he made yesterday." 

    He also said Trump has made it easier for future candidates to get away with offering little information unless the press changes its tactics: "Donald Trump has provided the map for the next guy who comes along. We are not seeing the end of this. He has shown every jerk in America how to make a run for president and not spend any money."

    Walter Shapiro, who covered nine presidential campaigns dating back to 1980 for The Washington Post, Newsweek, Salon, and other outlets, said the Trump coverage is unprecedented.  

    "I find the coverage of Trump, the over-coverage, the fawning coverage of Trump on TV, allowing him to call in, to be one of the most shocking things of the last 30 or 40 years," Shapiro said. "No one has ever gotten to have all of their campaign speeches broadcast unedited."

    He added, "There have been investigative pieces on Trump, but the pieces have not had as big an echo as some would hope and the saturation coverage of Trump has been so intense by the cable channels that nothing that an army of print journalists could do could combat that."

    Shapiro is among several veteran journalists who cited a lack of information on Trump's business record, which the candidate often touts as exemplary, but which is full of red flags for reporters.

    "I have been surprised how little attention there has been given to the individual victims of the bankruptcies," Shapiro said. "There is less of an appetite than I would like in examining his business career, and his personal ties -- who his friends are and how he treats his friends; the level of flagrant, unbelievable lying."

    Shapiro pointed to Trump's claim that he never called for a 45 percent tariff on goods from China, "even though The New York Times releases a tape in which he is saying that. This is the worst coverage of any candidate in my lifetime in terms of balance and finance."

    "Everybody recognizes that Trump is not putting forward specific policies," said Clark Hoyt, who covered campaigns for Knight-Ridder from 1968 to 1976 and later served as its Washington bureau chief. "Broadcasting and cable maybe aren't being as tough as they should be. I have questioned having him on by telephone, it's deferring to him in a way, letting him set ground rules that they don't for others. You do not see his demeanor and it is not the same as having him sit across from an interrogator."

    Hoyt, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his reporting on Democratic vice presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton's past struggles with depresssion, said the simple lack of probing questions when Trump is on air is very problematic.

    "I don't fault people for having him on -- the question is, what are the questions? How tough are they? What is the follow-up?" Hoyt said. "Forcing him to answer in greater detail than he has so far. Questions about how he would pay for a wall, what his real health care plan is, so on. I have never seen anything like it, the lack of facts, and he continues espousing his way on through."    

    Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said in an interview with Media Matters, "The problem for the press, which Trump has exploited in a certain sense, is that given the speed of everyday news now and the number of comments that he makes, it is almost as if the press is chasing its tail to catch up on the things that he says."

    Citing the muckrakers of the early 20th century, whom Goodwin highlighted in her 2013 book The Bully Pulpit, she said the press was more able to influence voters with in-depth reporting: "They were able to write 10,000-word pieces in McClure's magazines, people would read it and talk about it and it became the common conversation. You would learn about what was happening in the world of those giant companies and those business communities."

    Goodwin, who has previously criticized the media's Trump coverage, said changes in the media landscape are not an excuse for today's reporters to avoid tough questions, which she admits are starting to come for Trump. But she also added, "It is so late in the process that these are the things that should have been done from the start."

    David Yepsen, a former Des Moines Register columnist who covered presidential campaigns there for over 30 years before leaving in 2009, said part of the problem was not treating Trump as a serious candidate in the beginning.

    "They thought he was a celebrity and the media didn't treat it seriously," Yepsen said. "That kind of coverage of Trump is eclipsed by the celebrity stuff or by his outrage. I agree it has not been what it should have been given that he now has the chance to be the Republican nominee -- the scrutiny of his personal life, the scrutiny of his issues, what's he worth?"

    Asked for specific questions he would direct to the candidate, Yepsen said, "I think it is the whole package: What are your policy proposals? What do you want to do with this? Trump has to put some numbers on paper, too."    

    Adam Clymer, who covered politics for The New York Times for nearly three decades, said the press focuses too much on the outrage of the moment and the reaction to it, and not enough on demanding specifics.

    "The most serious shortcoming -- he tosses off that everybody will have health insurance, but he doesn't explain why," Clymer said. "This is not a heavy policy-oriented campaign on anybody in the Republican Party, but the front-runner has a singular responsibility for saying what he's going to do and how he's going to accomplish it."

    He later added, "What is especially lacking is scrubbing his proposals. The outrageous things he says are getting more coverage than they deserve and the details of such policy proposals are getting less coverage than he deserves."

    Walter Mears, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Associated Press campaign reporter who covered every general election presidential campaign between 1960 and 2000, said many reporters may be so surprised and unprepared for Trump's approach that they are not quick to react.

    "His M.O. is he just that he doesn't answer them and calls you names," Mears said. "You have an electorate that is not paying attention, doesn't care and does not mind. He has sound bites, he will cut taxes a lot, he's got a list of things he says he's going to do but he can't."

    But Mears said the press should not put up with it: "He's getting by with a lot of stuff that no candidate should get by with. All you get is hot air and blowback and it's all a rebuttal with him. He's getting away with it."

    Doyle McManus, former Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief and currently a columnist for the paper, agreed.

    "When you seek specific policies and plans for Donald Trump, you are seeking blood from a stone, it is not there," he said, later adding, "So the time is right for a round of deeper stories on his background and on the policies he would propose as president."

    Others who have covered Trump's business career going back decades agree that little has been offered about how he has handled real estate, casinos, and even golf courses with his name attached. A recent string of stories has highlighted the improper handling of Trump University, but most of his non-political past remains a mystery.

    "There's a lot to look at with his background, his hiring of undocumented Polish workers for Trump Tower, and so far he has kind of floated above the fray," said Gwenda Blair, the author of two books on Trump and a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. "It would be good to get at [his] tax returns out there, and the excuse that they are being audited doesn't seem to be an excuse at all."

    She added, "His earlier career in real estate in New York is a rough and tumble world. There is a lot of sketchy things that occurred there and nobody has really currently gone back over that with the kind of online digging tools that would be available now."

    "What were his relationships to labor unions and union bosses is a big area to be looked into," Blair said. "How did he manage to avoid having any construction strikes go on when other developers were plagued with strikes? What's his relationship to the concrete industry? What are his relationships with union bosses in Atlantic City?"

    Blair cited an issue she raised in a book: that Trump intervened in his father's will after his 1999 death, changing the document so children of Trump's brother Fred, who died in 1981, received no inheritance.

    "Why were his brother's children cut out of Donald's father's will?" she asked. "Which Donald has acknowledged he helped to draw up."

    She also said the Trump Organization canceled health insurance that the children had been receiving.

    "Some of his business failures have been reasonably reported," said Wayne Barrett, who wrote a 1992 book on Trump and covered him for The Village Voice for decades. Barrett said issues such as Trump's "mob associations, probably 25 named in my book," haven't been covered, adding that "nobody would finance him anymore since 1991, no bank would finance him on a significant finance deal." 

    Mears said that "one of the problems on his business background is that it's done through closely held companies that are not public companies. That buys an immense amount of privacy. The one area I would like to see more done on is his business bankruptcy that he blows a lot on. Bankruptcy records are public records -- do more on them and see what is involved."

    Goodwin said that historically, candidate backgrounds and past activities have been important elements of presidential coverage.

    "It's not simply a matter of how many positions somebody has held; it's how they dealt with the problems in those positions," she said. "What kind of a leader was he in his business? What kind of practices did he exercise when he was in that position?"

    She cited James Buchanan, who held many elective offices but was a failure as president, while Abraham Lincoln, who served only in a state legislature and had one term in Congress, was considered among the greatest presidents in U.S. history.

    "We can look at past leaders and see they had these qualities, being able to communicate, surround yourself with good people, and being able to admit when you're wrong," Goodwin said. "What kind of a leader was he in that business world? Within his own company? Did he exercise leadership in the city? What kind of people did he have around him? I don't know any of that."