Joe Strupp

Author ››› Joe Strupp
  • Veteran Political Scribes: Failure To Follow Trump Scandals Is "Bad Journalism"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The failure of many news outlets to follow up on some of the most important investigative reports on Donald Trump, while repeatedly rehashing the same overblown stories about Hillary Clinton, is drawing scrutiny from veteran political reporters and other journalists following the race.

    In interviews with Media Matters, many reporters and editors who have covered past races say the national press has not done enough to question Trump and follow up on major investigative pieces about the Republican nominee, including questions over his modeling agency’s alleged improper use of visas, his illegal campaign contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and his handling of $150,000 in 9/11 funds, among others.

    Most recently, Newsweek published a lengthy investigation into many of Trump’s foreign dealings, noting they could cause serious conflicts if he is president. Also notably, The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold has been doggedly reporting on the shady practices of the Trump Foundation, Trump’s charitable foundation. These stories, like many other Trump controversies, have been the subject of wider media attention this week.

    But if the rest of the election is any indication, they are likely to quickly fade from view in favor of media focus on Trump’s outrageous comment du jour or endless relitigating of Clinton pseudo-scandals, like her use of email and her health.

    Many experienced political reporters say this disconnect is a major failing of the political press so far this election.

    “It’s bad journalism,” said Bill Kovach, former Washington bureau chief for The New York Times, who later added, “To keep bringing up the same story in order to achieve what you feel like you need to call balance is sloppy journalism, it’s lazy journalism and it’s wrong in an election of this sort, with the kinds of issues the country is facing.”

    As for Trump stories, he agreed many news outlets engage in “one shot” reporting on Trump scandals. “I don’t get it,” Kovach added. “They disappear. If you were asking what the thing they remember most about Donald Trump, today it might be whatever today’s story is. Two days from now, that’s disappeared. But if you talk about Hillary Clinton, it’s the emails, the emails, the emails.”

    Walter Shapiro, a veteran who has covered numerous presidential campaigns for Time, Newsweek and The Washington Post, has long complained about the press’ lack of challenge to Trump’s lies. He said this imbalance is almost as bad.

    “I believe that the email scandal is badly overhyped and the Pam Bondi story is quite worthy of further scrutiny,” he said.

    Former Meet the Press host Marvin Kalb, who covered presidential campaigns from 1980 to 1988 for NBC News, said many reporters have been “seduced” by Trump.

    Asked if the press should do a better job following up on many Trump scandals, he said, “It absolutely should and it must, but it hasn’t and that to me is an illustration of the failure of the mainstream media in the United States, to treat him as they would any other candidate -- they treat him differently.”

    Clark Hoyt, former Washington bureau chief for Knight Ridder and past New York Times public editor, said Trump’s failure to release his tax returns is among the most important issues the press needs to focus on.

    “To the degree that isn’t being done it is a problem,” said Hoyt. “There has to be a concerted effort to get those returns released and there should be an ongoing enterprise effort to find out more about his wealth, his finances, his associates, his charitable contributions.”

    Veteran campaign scribes point to several reasons for the imbalance in follow-up stories. Some say that there are so many Trump transgressions and scandals that reporters do not know how to keep up, while others contend many in the press corps still do not believe Trump can win and therefore do not take such investigations seriously.

    “I don’t think it’s deliberate, but it exists,” said Christopher Cooper, a former Wall Street Journal political reporter who covered the Obama campaign in 2008. “I don’t think in their hearts they think he’s going to win.”

    Cooper added, “every morning you wake up and Trump has done something else and it kind of gets lost in the forest I think.”

    David Yepsen, a former Des Moines Register politics reporter, agreed.

    He said reporters “still don’t think he’s going to be president. … There’s still an attitude, you see it in talk shows and things, that her path is easier than his so if I am a reporter and an expectation that someone is going to get the job and someone is the clown and has no chance at winning, you do treat them differently. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but that’s the way that is.”

    Jill Abramson, former New York Times executive editor and a one-time Washington bureau chief, agreed there are so many Trump issues to investigate that some reporters may not know where to begin.

    “I think some reporters are staying on them, but there’s just such a wide array of different controversies and ethical imbroglios that no particular one gets through,” Abramson said. “With Clinton, she’s been scrubbed many times and the controversies seem to have boiled down to the ones … that get repeat attention. My overall criticism of the coverage of any of these incidents is that they get disproportional coverage in the moment and then they don’t get much serious follow up; I think that that point is true. The stories lack the impact that they otherwise might get. … They get washed away by the speed of the news cycle”

    She added, “Trump has a stunning array of unethical, really troubling different ventures. He hasn’t been in public life so the number of deals and such that he’s involved in is much broader.”

    Tom Fiedler, former Miami Herald executive editor and political editor, said many in the press get caught up in the changing daily narrative and fail to research bigger investigations further.

    “Despite the gravity of many of the transgressions reported about Trump, he invariably commits a still-newer outrage within a news cycle or two, thus driving the previous story from current discussion,” said Fiedler, who is currently dean of the College of Communication at Boston University. “The even older outrages -- perhaps committed just three or four news cycles earlier -- are buried even further under the newer ones.”

    Fielder also said, “because the news media -- and particularly television -- remains locked in the culture of false balance, whenever Trump commits his latest outrage the media feels obligated to ‘balance’ that by repeating whatever may be conveniently available from Clinton.”

    Former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said all of these realities mix together to create the problematic difference in how Clinton and Trump are being investigated and reported upon.

    “First and foremost, Trump is a master at changing the subject. Some news outlet unearths a nugget of scandal? No problem. Trump just says something outrageous (‘Hillary is a bigot!’ ‘Obama and Hillary are the founders of Isis!’) and recaptures the headlines,” Keller said via email. “The press (to be grossly generalistic...) can't resist the lure of a bright shiny new object. Second, the sheer volume of scandal-bombs … makes it difficult to focus on any one. Third, to some extent Trump gets away with stuff because much of it plays to his theme: I can fix the rigged system because I've been working that system my whole life.”

    He later said of the coverage of Clinton: “Where Trump changes the subject -- or just flat lies -- Hillary hunkers down. She responds incrementally and defensively, which prolongs the misery.”

    Finally, Keller said many in the press may seek to fight back against the claims of liberal bias by over-covering Clinton’s issues and not challenging Trump: “I think some media, aware that they are accused of being in the tank for Hillary, recycle the emails to prove they are not playing favorites.”

  • Former George W. Bush Ethics Lawyer: Trump And His Family Need To Cut Ties With The Trump Organization If Trump Wins 

    Richard Painter: Trump's Foreign Business Conflicts Are "A Serious Problem" Deserving Of Media Attention

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, says if Republican nominee Donald Trump becomes president, the only way to avoid serious conflicts of interest would be for Trump and his family to sell all of their holdings in the Trump Organization. Painter also stressed that the issue was a “serious problem” that warrants increased media attention.

    The ethical mess presented by the Trump Organization is back in the news thanks to a Newsweek piece by reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who explained that if Trump and his family don’t cut ties to the family’s business conglomerate, Trump would “be the most conflicted president in American history, one whose business interests will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” due to the Trump Organization’s relationships and financial entanglements with foreign interests.

    Painter, who served as President George W. Bush's chief ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007, said the conflicts are so vast and serious that Trump and his family should simply sell off the company’s assets if he becomes president.  

    “He needs to be out, he and his family need to be out,” Painter said in a phone interview Wednesday. (Trump has previously suggested that he would turn his business empire over to his children if he wins the presidency.)

    “To deal with the conflicts of interest the answer is to have all of these holdings, put ‘em all into a holding company, one company. He assigns all of his personal interests in everything to a holding company, then does an initial public offering for cash on Jan. 20 with the registration statement and he takes the cash, puts it in treasury bills or something like that.”

    Painter, who has publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton, points out that the criminal conflict of interest statute that bars such associations for federal employees does not apply to the president or vice president. 

    But he said that still does not make them acceptable and said previous presidents and vice presidents have divested themselves from such conflicts upon taking office.

    In his article, Eichenwald explained the Trump Organization’s blatant conflicts of interest have been “largely ignored,” something Painter says the media should rectify.

    “I think it needs media attention, I think it’s a serious problem,” he said. “The fact that he won’t even deal with it just like he won’t release his tax returns is a serious problem. The problems with Clinton is we just hear the same stuff over and over again, there is not a lot of stuff to talk about. … With Trump we’ve got this long list of problems.”

    Painter said that the key danger is when U.S. economic or foreign policy affects a nation with which Trump has business dealings or a business relationship. He fears that would put the U.S. at risk.

    “My number one concern is the amount of debt and the way he’s basically beholden to the banks. Like any real estate guy he has the support of loosey goosey credit regime and that means cronies in the banks keep throwing money at him,” he said. “What the Newsweek article does is flesh out another dimension of this particularly with respect to the international holdings and I very much suspect that they’ve only uncovered the tip of the iceberg.”

    He continued, “He has holdings all over the world, financial relationships all over the world. These are people who would be directly impacted by United States foreign policy. He makes money abroad because he has friends and if he has enemies he’s going to lose money abroad. This is a very serious problem for the United States from the vantage point of our foreign policy and our national security to have a president with significant economic exposure outside of the United States.”

    Painter stressed that for Trump to simply turn over control of The Trump Organization to his children would not be enough.

    “Just turning it over to his son and say his son is going to manage it, or his daughter, that doesn’t solve the problem,” Painter said. “I don’t think that if he has these financial interests and turns it over to his son, he knows what’s there. He knows who they're dependent on outside the United States. He knows which foreign governments and which organizations, which business consortiums he’s dependent on. If the statute applied to him, the criminal conflict of interest statute, that solution would never work.”

    Painter has also -- while explaining "there is little if any evidence that federal ethics laws were broken" by Clinton and those working for her -- urged the Clintons to further distance themselves from the Clinton Foundation. 

  • Ailes Biographer Gabriel Sherman Expects “Wholesale Housecleaning” At Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Fox News’ forced exit of Roger Ailes in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal is just the beginning of what is expected to be a “wholesale housecleaning” of management in the coming months, according to Gabriel Sherman, the New York magazine writer and Ailes biographer who has been covering the network for the past six years.

    Sherman, who spoke at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Thursday night, said he is still reporting on a “breaking news” story surrounding Fox and believes that major change are ahead.

    “From what I understand talking to people up and down the network is that it’s really in a holding pattern,” Sherman said. “They are looking for a permanent CEO and most likely there will be, after the November election, more of a wholesale housecleaning.”

    Sherman’s appearance followed his blockbuster cover story last week on Ailes that revealed insider accounts of the back story behind former anchor Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes, which she and Fox settled for $20 million earlier this week.

    He took questions from moderator Bill Grueskin, a Columbia journalism professor and a former Wall Street Journal editor, as well as both in-person and online audience members.

    “In the crush of daily headlines it can seem like the story has really played out, but I think we are still in the middle of what I think will be remembered as one of the seismic shifts in the American media landscape,” Sherman told the crowd. “It took just 15 days from when Gretchen Carlson filed her lawsuit for Roger Ailes to be pushed out the door of Fox News, an institution he built and shaped in his image and in the process remade American politics in his image.”

    Sherman also discussed his 2014 Ailes biography, The Loudest Voice in the Room, and how his reporting for that book and New York magazine was often both influential and frightening.

    He cited two women he interviewed for the book, Shelley Ross and Randi Harrison, who recounted their own claims that Ailes sexually harassed them in the 1980s when he produced the Tomorrow show on NBC.

    Sherman said their openness might have affected Gretchen Carlson’s decision to sue.

    “Having these women out there I think gave Gretchen Carlson and her lawyers confidence to file her lawsuit because this was not an isolated incident,” Sherman said. “We had already had on-the-record episodes of sexual harassment.”

    Asked about the revelations that Carlson had secretly recorded some of the most damaging comments by Ailes, Sheman said those audio files could someday be heard in court.

    “My understanding is that those tapes still exist,” Sherman said. “So if there is future litigation, if say another woman should file a lawsuit, they could be subpoenaed in court.”

    Grueskin brought up the 400-page dossier Fox News reportedly created on Sherman and a private investigator they had following him. Sherman said that was not the most frightening moment in his Ailes reporting over the years.

    “I think the scariest moment was at the end of 2012, it was Christmastime, when the website Breitbart, which now is famous for being aligned with Trump, splashed an article about me on the home page that I was being paid by George Soros, and I was, it labeled me a Soros-funded attack dog,” Sherman recounted. “We got a death threat at home, the phone rang and someone very scary on the phone said some very scary things. Ailes, this sort of right-wing machine does this to politicians, but they have security and all this; we don’t even have a doorman at home.”

    He said he filed a police report and had a trip out of town planned anyway, so he and his wife left New York.

    “It was the first time it internalized for me that Ailes is a very powerful man,” Sherman said. “He has access not only to a lot of money, but he had relationships across the media that he could then train and turn on me.”

    He said that kind of fear affected several of the sources he used for the recent New York piece, which included many anonymous voices.

    “I had sources who were so paranoid and scared they would call me from burner phones,” Sherman said of the disposable prepaid phones. “I had sources who would meet me in the strangest of places, in the most anonymous places in Manhattan because they didn’t even want to be talking to me on the telephone.”

    But, he added, “it is not going to deter me from covering what is still a breaking news story.”

    Although he says he has never interviewed Ailes, who has regularly declined, Sherman said if he had the chance to ask one question, it would be: “What are your regrets?”

    Sherman also said he has no interest in filing any legal action against Fox or Ailes for some of their intimidation methods: “The short answer is no. I have been in the trenches on a breaking news story.”

  • Florida Reporters: Bondi-Trump Scandal Is “A Big Deal” Worth Serious Media Attention

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Florida-based reporters who have covered the story for years say the scandal surrounding an illegal donation the Trump Foundation gave to a political group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is “a big deal” and well-worth increased national media attention.

    In 2013, the Donald J. Trump Foundation donated $25,000 to a PAC supporting Bondi’s re-election. As The Washington Post explained, “At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.”

    The story, which has been bubbling in the Florida press on and off for years, picked up steam again this week following news that Trump had to pay an IRS penalty over the donation (charitable groups are barred from donating to political causes), and that Bondi had reportedly “personally solicited” the contribution. 

    Though the controversy has been breaking through to national media, it's still lacking in some important measures -- for example, a Media Matters study showed that the three broadcast networks devoted far more time to hyping a flimsy Associated Press report about supposed Clinton Foundation wrongdoing as they have to the Bondi-Trump story.

    While Trump’s campaign and his supporters say the issue is being overblown, journalists in the Sunshine State call it “a big deal.”

    “There are pieces of this that we and other Florida news outlets have been hitting on since 2013, and when Bondi endorsed Trump in March,” said Michael Auslen, a Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau reporter. “It is fair to raise the question. The timing of the donation was suspect. The donation came in as the attorney general was deciding whether or not to pursue an investigation on Trump University and decided not to. At the very least it looks fishy.”

    Mary Ellen Klas, capital bureau chief for The Miami Herald, agreed.

    “The Trump/Bondi element is something we have focused on. … It is worthy of attention and we don’t feel that the attorney general has answered our questions in any way. She avoids the press,” Klas said in an interview. “It’s one of many important inquiries into the candidates. I think the question should be, ‘what does this say about how they expect elected officials should operate and what does this say about how they would govern?’”

    Dan Sweeney, a legislative reporter for The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, also said the timing of the contribution and Bondi’s actions make it suspect and worth pursuing.

    “It is the timeline,” he said. “You’ve got Pam Bondi personally soliciting a donation from Donald Trump. Weeks later, you have her spokesperson telling The Orlando Sentinel they are considering looking into Trump University. Then the payment to came four days later. The fact that [it’s] one right after the other like that, it raises the question of whether one thing was done in response to the other.”

    The New York Times, which was the focus of criticism from Media Matters and others over its failure to write about the Bondi-Trump scandal, finally featured the story in a September 7 front-page report about Trump’s “decades-long record of shattering political donation limits and circumventing the rules governing contributions and lobbying.”

    “I would say it’s about time,” Sweeney said about the national media attention. “This is an issue that has been written about down here since it happened three years ago. The New York Times is actually late to the game more than anything else.”

    Matt Galka, state politics reporter for Capital News Service, called the story, “a big deal.”

    “I think it is important. It’s a big deal and I think the optics, the timing [are relevant],” he said. “The donation comes in and four days later she says, ‘we’re not going to do it’ raises eyebrows. … It has definitely gotten plenty of [local] attention.”

    Lynn Hatter, news director for the Tallahassee-based Florida Public Radio station WFSU, said the controversy is now “getting the attention that it deserves.” She added, “I think a lot of Florida press is wondering why it took national press so long. A lot of the question has centered on what took you guys so long, we have known about this for a while now."

  • James Carville Calls Out The Media’s False Equivalence

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Veteran political consultant and commentator James Carville says the media assumes false equivalence when covering major policy disagreements, allowing right-wing misinformation to overshadow clear evidence that Democratic policies on issues like the economy and health care have been successful.

    Carville, who is a guest contributor to Media Matters, recently released We’re Still Right, They’re Still Wrong, a sequel to his 1996 book We’re Right, They’re Wrong. In an interview with Media Matters, Carville explained that he wrote the book because “the Democratic Party does a very poor job of tootin’ our own horn” while “right-wing blowhards” successfully push misinformation about Democratic policies into mainstream media coverage.

    “The economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans -- there’s no debate there,” Carville explained. “You don’t even have to be an expert to go look up unemployment data. Look up growth. The deficit is remarkably lower under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents.” But Carville argues that reporters’ obsession with presenting “both sides” of policy disagreements -- rather than focusing on evidence -- ends up lending credibility to right-wing misinformation. Conservatives "don’t ever cite any facts for anything that they say. And they just move on.”

    Carville highlighted conservative fearmongering on issues like Obamacare, the Ebola virus -- which some warned was going to “kill us all” -- and climate change as notable examples. “It’s not a disputable fact. The earth is getting warmer; get over it. There‘s not another side of the argument.”

    Carville sees evidence of that same false equivalence in reporting about the presidential election. “I do interviews and they say, ‘Well, we have two unpopular candidates.’ Yes, that’s sort of true, but one is twice as unpopular as the other.”

    In Carville’s view, Republican nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy is the natural product of years of fact-free right-wing fearmongering. “I think Trump is the perfect nominee of a party that hates facts. Because he doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t know the nuclear triad from the federal triangle. And he is just exactly what they deserve. They’ve been a fact-denying party from evolution to global warming to economic policy to foreign policy, so why should they be surprised if they have a fact-denying nominee? He fits in perfectly for them.”

    At the same time, Carville sees a double standard in the way reporters handle each candidate's respective controversies. In a March piece for Media Matters, Carville laid out what he dubbed “The Clinton Rule” based on the Beltway media’s obsession with supposed Clinton “scandals”: “There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons.”

    As a recent example, Carville pointed to the media’s recent scrutiny of the Clinton Foundation and the growing calls for the Clintons to shut it down. He urged Democrats to be blunt in their defense of the foundation: “People are going to die. Yes, people will die when you shut it down.” He dismissed potential hand-wringing over his proclamation: “‘Oh gee, do you think you should you really say that?’ Well it’s a fact.”

    “My message to Democrats is, you’ve been right, get over it. You can be nice, you can be polite about it, but you’ve just been right,” Carville said. “I’m sure it’s going to come a day where we’ll get something wrong and we’ll deal with that, too.”

  • Medical Experts: TV Doctors’ Diagnoses Of Clinton Are “Dangerous” And “Unethical”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Medical experts and ethicists are harshly criticizing news outlets and doctors who continue to spread false conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s health, warning that such irresponsible “diagnoses” are both unprofessional and dangerous.

    Republican nominee Donald Trump and his campaign have been pushing the conspiracy theory that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is secretly suffering from severe health problems. Trump’s allies in the conservative media, including Fox News host Sean Hannity, have also promoted the Clinton health conspiracy theory.

    And even some medical professionals, like Dr. Drew Pinsky, have appeared in the media and attempted to diagnose health problems with Clinton.

    But medical experts, some who represent hundreds of medical professionals, are warning that trying to diagnose Clinton without having examined her or researched her entire medical history is simply wrong.

    “Diagnosing a person who is not your patient without ever examining that person or reviewing his or her entire medical record, signifies a huge ethical lapse on the part of a physician,” said Len Bruzzese, executive director of the Association of Health Care Journalists. “Shopping for doctors willing to do this anyway, signifies a huge ethical lapse on the part of a journalist.”

    “To attempt to diagnose an individual without that information does them a disservice and can harm the individual with an inaccurate label or diagnosis which can negatively impact them,” said Dr. Robert Wergin, chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians’ Board of Directors. “It can lead to speculation regarding the individual that could be far from the truth."

    Dr. Art Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, said, “unless you believe in psychic diagnosis it is completely irresponsible and unprofessional to do it.”

    He later added, “The bottom line danger is you are likely to be wrong. Second, you are just playing along with the politics. That is what is driving this. They don’t care about these people, they are just calling doctors to push the partisanship. ... I think it's lousy journalism ethics. You shouldn’t be fostering the notion that somehow these are experts who can divine the health status of people they’ve never met, talked to, or have no sense of their medical history. It’s farcical and to indulge it is one more example of journalists not knowing how to cover this campaign.”

    Lawrence McGinty, chair of the Medical Journalists’ Association, a British medical association, called such diagnoses “dangerous.”

    “My advice to doctors would be simply ‘Don't.’ And as a TV news journalist for three decades, my advice to journalists would be, ‘Don't ask.’"

    Karl Stark, a Philadelphia Inquirer health and science journalist and president of the Association of Health Care Journalists, added, “Guessing may be a staple of astrology but it's bad for medicine and bad for journalism.”

    Andrew Holtz, a former CNN medical correspondent and editor of The Holtz Report, agreed: “When reporters call up a doctor and ask for something, like diagnosis by video clip, that is beyond their expertise, they should refuse to play along … and tell the reporter or producer why they can’t do it.”

    Dr. Paul K. Bronston, National Chairman of the Ethics and Professional Policy Committee of the American College of Medical Quality, is a veteran medical expert in legal matters. He said such an approach would be dangerous in court, let alone on television.

    “I think it’s outrageous and it's irresponsible and it's unethical,” Bronston said of the unauthorized opinions. “They have no business doing that if they haven’t reviewed their medical records, haven’t listened to appropriate doctors who are taking care of her, and they have to have the requisite specialty to comment on that.”

    He cited Dr. Drew Pinsky’s recent claims as an example of one of the worst offenders.

    “I am very concerned about Dr. Drew making medical evaluations and a diagnosis regarding Hillary Clinton’s alleged medical problems in areas outside his medical expertise,” Bronston said. “I also believe that he would probably be disqualified to give medical testimony in certain areas of Hillary’s medical condition in a California court. What he is doing is unethical.”

    Jonathan Moreno, a professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, also cited doctor-patient ethics.

    “Ethically, unless you have entered into a therapeutic relationship with a patient, you are not supposed to diagnose their medical condition,” he said. “And if you do that you are not supposed to reveal it under the doctor-patient relationship. It doesn’t do the profession any favors when you do these things.”

    Dr. Richard Allen Williams, president of the National Medical Association, which represents African-American doctors, noted Trump’s role in the spread of accusations about Clinton.

    “In the case of the particular political campaigns, it seems that most of the commentary regarding one’s health status has flowed from the Trump side to the Clinton side,” Williams said. “We do not see that as action that would be warranted and it is unethical from the standpoint of someone making a medical comment without having examined the individual or having knowledge of that person.”

  • Experts: “The Line Between Trump And The Extreme Right Has Just Gone From Fuzzy To Virtually Non-Existent”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Organizations and activists that monitor extremism on the right are warning about the implications of the Trump campaign’s hiring of Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen Bannon, saying the move signals that “the line between Trump and the extreme right has just gone from fuzzy to virtually non-existent.”

    Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Bannon would be joining his campaign as its new chief executive; Bannon is reportedly taking a leave of absence from the aggressively pro-Trump Breitbart News site while he works for the campaign. As CNN’s Brian Stelter explained, Bannon’s hiring indicates that “we're going to see the most fringy ideas, the most right-wing ideas bubble up to the surface in a way we haven't even seen before in this election.” 

    Several experts on hate and extremism in conservative circles tell Media Matters that the Bannon move is troubling and exemplifies the Trump campaign’s full embrace of ugly nativism. 

    “Breitbart News consistently provides a platform for extremist voices, most notably anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim figures. But since 2015, Breitbart has gone one step further -- championing the racist rhetoric of the alternative-right while at the same time singing the praises of Donald Trump,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. She added, “Trump’s move to hire Breitbart’s Steve Bannon is not surprising considering the media outlet’s steadfast support of the GOP nominee. With this move, the line between Trump and the extreme right has just gone from fuzzy to virtually non-existent.”

    Lindsay Schubiner, senior program manager at the national research and advocacy organization Center for New Community, also highlighted how Breitbart News “has provided a high-profile outlet for virulently nativist individuals for years.” According to Schubiner, “With Bannon now at the helm, Trump is likely to double down on his provocative and openly bigoted appeals for support. Bringing Bannon on board can be seen as a clear rebuke of RNC officials' efforts to encourage Trump to moderate his tone in the pivot to the general election.”

    She concluded, “In other words, Bannon’s hire represents a full-stop embrace of the dangerous and virulent nativism on which Trump has predicated his campaign since day one.”

    Center for American Progress Action Fund senior fellow Henry Fernandez raised questions about Breitbart’s embrace of the “alt-right” movement, “an extremist branch of conservatism that includes white nationalists and anti-Semites,” and said the Bannon hire “may indicate a willingness to further engage with these groups.”

    Fernandez also pointed out that Breitbart News has been "going after conservatives for calling out anti-Semitism and racism," which suggests the Bannon hiring is both a potential embrace of alt-right extremists and also about "sending a signal within the conservative movement about conservatives who are willing to stand up and say this is a real problem."

    Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, called the hiring a “perfect match”: “It is the clearest indication possible that Trump has no intention of taking a higher road between now and Election Day. In some ways this is a perfect match because Breitbart traffics in the same kind of half-truths and falsehoods and attacks on people who disagree with them.”

  • Former Breitbart News Spokesman Rails Against New Trump CEO: A "Pathological Liar"

    Kurt Bardella: Campaign Is About To Become More "Dangerous," "Combative," And "Divisive"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Former Breitbart News spokesman Kurt Bardella says his old boss Stephen Bannon, who yesterday took a leave of absence from the right-wing news site to serve as chief executive of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, is a “pathological liar” whose hiring signals a “dangerous" and “combative” turn for the campaign.

    Bardella served as a spokesman for Breitbart News from 2013 to early 2016. He cut ties after Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields accused then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of grabbing her arm.

    He said then he objected to Breitbart’s treatment of Fields, whose accounts of the incident were questioned by Breitbart News LLC CEO Bannon. She eventually left the website.

    “It signals a dangerous and, even more so, combative and divisive turn,” Bardella told Media Matters about the hiring of Bannon by Trump. “It’s an indication that this campaign, as negative as it has been, is going to be even more so going forward. If the media thought that their relationship with the Trump campaign was challenging before this, it’s going to be 10 times worse now."

    Indeed, Breitbart News' editorial stance has been defined by its bigotry and sycophantic coverage of Donald Trump. 

    Bardella also described Bannon as a “pathological liar who has a temperament that governs by bullying and intimidation and functions very much like a dictator at Breitbart.”

    He said voters should take note of what this says about Trump’s judgement and approach as a leader.

    “If anything, it is an indication of the types of people that Trump will listen to, and when people vote in November they need to measure that very seriously, that this is becoming an escalatingly dangerous situation for our country,” Bardella said. “And I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic sense. It is incredibly troubling that one of the people that is going to have the most influence with the would-be commander in chief is someone like that. If you thought Trump’s temperament and proclivity for saying outrageous things and saying things for shock value, that is just the tip of the iceberg when you have someone like Bannon running the show.”

    He later added, “For those who didn’t enjoy working for Corey Lewandowski because of his temperament, Stephen Bannon makes Corey look like a golden doodle."

    Asked what this will mean to the campaign and those who cover it, Bardella said, “Anyone who works for that campaign should be ready for regularly scheduled profanity-laced tirades against them.”

  • Journalists At The RNC: The Trump Campaign’s Press Treatment Raises “Serious Questions” About How President Trump Would Treat The Media

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Journalists at this week’s Republican National Convention warn that the Trump campaign’s treatment of the press raises serious questions about how his administration would treat the media, with one calling the Republican nominee a “dictator-in-waiting.”

    The Republican nominee and his campaign have waged a long-running war on the press, including banning critical outlets from events, promising to “open up our libel laws” if Trump is elected, and regularly personally insulting reporters.

    In interviews with Media Matters at the RNC, several journalists criticized Trump's approach to the media. 

    “He’s a dictator-in-waiting, it doesn’t surprise me the way he is,” Foreign Policy Initiative fellow and former New Republic reporter James Kirchick said. 

    Kriston Capps, a writer for The Atlantic, said Trump “despises [the press], but he can’t break an addiction to the press.” He added, “I think it would be a huge change in tone for the United States; to have a president calling people liars for doing their jobs would be unprecedented.”

    Trump’s press treatment has been the subject of widespread criticism, including from journalism rights groups that have warned a Trump presidency could curtail press freedom and former White House press secretaries who think Trump might poison White House press relations.

    “My assumption is that a Trump presidency will see the same kind of behavior that we have seen in the past 10 months and 10 years,” said Jeff Greenfield, an Emmy Award-winning journalist. “It becomes very difficult [to continue that behavior] when you are the chief executive of the United States, that’s when you get some very serious questions.”

    Jim Payne, a news anchor for WESH, NBC’s Orlando, FL, affiliate, argued that Trump “demonizes the media and blames us for not getting the message out the way he wants it.” He added, “But he needs the media. Most of what he is proposing goes against the constitution anyway.”

    Philadelphia Sunday Sun journalist Denise Clay said: “In order to be an effective president, it would help if you knew how the Constitution works. When Mr. Trump made the remark that he would make it easier to sue [reporters] and make it harder for reporters to do their job, he doesn’t know the First Amendment.”

  • “The End Of This Fox”: Journalists At The Republican Convention React To News Of Ailes’ Likely Departure

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Journalists covering the Republican National Convention expressed surprise over the news that Roger Ailes is reportedly negotiating his exit from Fox News due to ongoing fallout from a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson, with one saying his departure could mean “the end” of this version of Fox News.

    In a chaotic series of events Tuesday afternoon, The Drudge Report splashed a headline on its website beneath its signature breaking news siren announcing an “Exclusive” that Ailes was leaving Fox News. The news was quickly confirmed by the network to The Daily Beast, only to subsequently be walked back. Drudge soon pulled his “Exclusive” headline as conflicting reports emerged over Ailes’ status. The New York Times reported on Tuesday night, “Mr. Ailes and 21st Century Fox, Fox News’s parent company, are in the advanced stages of discussions that would lead to his departure as chairman.”

    As the news was unfolding, Media Matters discussed Ailes’ apparently imminent departure with several journalists attending BuzzFeed’s “Red, White & Blacklisted” party at the Republican National Convention (which was held to highlight the Trump campaign’s penchant for denying press credentials to critical media outlets).

    It means the end of this Fox,” said Washington Post writer Erik Wemple, who frequently criticizes Fox News for its coverage and regular ethical lapses. “But we don’t really know what is Ailes’ day-to-day impact to the organization, if his lieutenants can carry it forward. What matters to me is that they did this because of internal consideration, not journalism.”

    Michael Calderone, senior media reporter for The Huffington Post, told Media Matters Ailes’ exit could drastically change the network: “We’re going to see probably a very different Fox News in a couple of years. You may not want to tear it down, but now we are imagining a future without him. It could change dramatically.”

    Stephen A. Nuño, an NBC News Latino contributor and associate professor at Northern Arizona University, wondered if the network “may actually do news now.” He continued, “Fox has a business model that seems to work. If he leaves, I don’t know what that does to the business model.”

    Daily Beast deputy social media editor Asawin Suebsaeng pointed out that “It’s so rare that powerful men are held accountable.”

    Several journalists were skeptical Ailes’ likely departure would harm Fox News, though.

    “He created Fox, but there are others who can continue that vision,” said Alfonso Aguilar, a political commentator and the president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. He added, “Fox will continue to grow. People don’t watch Fox because of Roger Ailes.”

    One staffer for rival network CNN claimed Fox’s future success will hinge solely on the quality of its programming: “If they maintain the same mandate, they still will have the audience. If the quality plummets, they won’t. How many people watch Fox News for Roger Ailes?”

    "I don’t think anything means the end of Fox, but who knows," Shani Hilton, executive editor for Buzzfeed News told Media Matters. 

    “Fox will go on; it doesn’t just die,” said Deadspin and GQ writer Drew Magary.