John Kerr

Author ››› John Kerr
  • VIDEO: How False Equivalence Ruins Trump-Clinton News Coverage


    News outlets covering the presidential election have made the mistake of treating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as two equally flawed candidates. That false equivalence has made it harder for voters to understand the categorical differences between their options on November 8.

    In typical elections, news outlets often treat both major presidential candidates as relatively similar -- comparing their flaws, scrutinizing their respective scandals, and framing the election as a choice between two comparable options.

    That approach hasn’t been appropriate this election cycle. Clinton is not a flawless candidate -- her campaign has been dogged by conspiracies surrounding the Clinton Foundation and her use of a private email server as secretary of state. But she is a relatively conventional one -- abiding by both constitutional and political norms.

    Trump, on the other hand, represents a dramatic break from mainstream American politics. He threatens the First Amendment, demonizes minority groups, cozies up to white supremacists, championed the birther movement, invites Russian interference in the election, promises to arrest his political opponent, lies constantly, lacks the most basic interest in and knowledge of public policy, says he may not accept the results of the election because he believes it to be “rigged” -- the list goes on and on.

    These are not equally flawed candidates. But a number of news outlets have treated them as such, devoting similar amounts of attention and ink to Clinton and Trump’s respective controversies.

    The New York Times has been criticized for its disproportionate focus on Clinton’s email server and the Clinton Foundation, so much that the paper’s public editor penned a defense of the paper’s coverage:

    The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking. What the critics really want is for journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates.


    If Trump is unequivocally more flawed than his opponent, that should be plenty evident to the voting public come November. But it should be evident from the kinds of facts that bold and dogged reporting unearths, not from journalists being encouraged to impose their own values to tip the scale.

    That approach, treating both candidates’ scandals equally and hoping voters come to the correct conclusion, is a big part of the reason that voters view Trump and Clinton as being similarly untrustworthy, and view their missteps as similarly concerning. Audiences internalize the way the media covers each candidate in relation to the other.

    Treating two wildly different candidates as if they’re equally flawed is not “fairness” -- it’s a journalistic failure. And news outlets that have failed to explain the categorical differences between the controversies dogging Trump and Clinton’s presidential campaigns have done a real disservice to voters who want to understand what’s at stake in November.

    Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh.

  • VIDEO: Jesse Watters: The Worst Of The Worst


    Fox News is under fire after The O'Reilly Factor on October 3 aired a blatantly racist edition of Jesse Watters' segment "Watters' World." Watters interviewed people in New York City's Chinatown neighborhood, asking questions such as “Am I supposed to bow to say hello?" “Tell me what’s not made in China?” and “Do you know karate?” This segment is just the latest addition to Watters' long history of making racist and sexist remarks, shaming the poor, and mocking ordinary people during his "Watters' World" feature on O'Reilly's program. Here are some of the worst examples:

    Several groups representing Asian-Americans have issued statements condemning the racist segment, and numerous journalists have rebuked the piece.

  • VIDEO: Donald Trump's Years Of Birtherism

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR

    Donald Trump has pushed birtherism in years of interviews:

    As he tries to erase all of this, the press cannot forget that Trump's entire political identity was based on pushing this racist conspiracy.

  • VIDEO: What Right-Wing Media Get Wrong About The Unemployment Rate


    Right-wing media personalities have long claimed that the economy is worse off than it is in reality by citing inappropriate figures to distort the full picture. They claim that the “real” unemployment rate is much higher than the figure reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and they often point to the labor force participation rate as the main indicator of how healthy job growth is.

    Donald Trump has claimed that the unemployment rate is as high as 42 percent, saying “these are the real unemployment numbers – the 5 percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.” PolitiFact gave that claim a rating of “Pants on Fire,” its worst possible verdict, but right-wing media have repeatedly enabled this lie by claiming that as many as 94 million Americans are "not in the labor force," failing to note that this 94 million includes: students, retirees, stay-at-home parents, and those institutionalized in mental health or penal facilities. As of August 2016, the official unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, down from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009 following the financial crisis.

    Conservative pundits like to cite the labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the population that is in the labor force, as proof that the economy is in decline. They use this rate because it is downward trending while the unemployment rate has been steadily improving for nearly six years. The reason the labor force participation rate is on the decline though, is because "baby boomers" are retiring en masse; in fact, roughly 10,000 people reach retirement age every day. Labor force participation peaked during the Clinton administration, and President Obama inherited an economy in the midst of a deep recession from President Bush. The idea that Obama is to blame for an imaginary economic decline is just misinformation.

    Many economists agree that the employment to population ratio is a better measure of economic health -- as it represents the number of jobs available as a proportion of the total population -- and the ratio has been gradually improving since the end of the recession.

    These types of myths are harmful. CNN Money recently highlighted a study from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University which found that while the unemployment rate is only 4.9 percent, 57 percent of Americans “believe it is a lot higher” because the “general public has ‘extremely little factual knowledge’ about the job market and labor force.” The article also noted how “Donald Trump has tapped into this confusion” by “repeatedly call[ing] the official unemployment rate a ‘joke’ and even a ‘hoax.’”

  • VIDEO: How Right-Wing Lies Become Mainstream News

    The Fox Cycle, Explained


    The Fox Cycle is the process by which Fox News pushes right-wing fringe stories into the mainstream news. Fox distorts facts, spreads myths as truths and devotes heavy, one-sided coverage to make viewers believe in baseless, manufactured stories -- and, worse, to convince mainstream media outlets to cover these lies.

    The Fox Cycle occurs in six steps:

    1. Right-wing bloggers, talk radio hosts, and other conservative media outlets start promoting a fringe or false story.
    2. Fox News picks up the story and gives it heavy, one-sided coverage.
    3. Fox News and conservative media attack the "liberal media" for ignoring it.
    4. Mainstream media outlets eventually cover the story, echoing the right-wing distortions.
    5. Fox News receives credit for promoting the story.
    6. The story is later proved to be false or wildly misleading, long after damage is done.

    The Fox Cycle is the reason why some people believe that Planned Parenthood is in the business of selling fetal body parts, why some people still think the 2012 presidential election was rigged against Mitt Romney, why some people are convinced that voter ID laws prevent fraud and why climate denial is rampant. Even after the truth has emerged, proving the story false, there are still many people left with the impression that there’s some truth or credibility to the claims.

    While Fox News is mainly to blame for picking up these fringey stories in the first place, mainstream news outlets must be careful not to echo their right-wing manufactured distortions as truths. Fact checking and debunking misinformation is especially important this campaign season.

  • Fox News' Obscene And Ridiculous Trump Infomercial

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR

    On May 26, Fox News aired an hour-long special, Meet The Trumps, in which On The Record host Greta Van Susteren spent the hour asking flattering questions of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump and his immediate family. Multiple critics compared the special to the state-run media of a dictatorship.

    This is what the special looks like when you remove Trump and his family's answers:

  • VIDEO: Megyn Kelly Repackaged A Year’s Worth Of Fox Interview Questions To Trump


    Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s widely panned interview with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump failed to bolster her carefully crafted image as a hard-hitting journalist. Indeed, Kelly recycled a series of softball questions her fellow Fox personalities have previously asked Trump.

    Kelly’s May 17 interview was promoted as an exclusive, hard-hitting exchange and reconciliation between the presumptive nominee and Fox’s primetime anchor after the months-long public feud between Trump and the network over Kelly’s questioning of the candidate. Kelly herself said her goal for the interview was an “interesting, compelling exchange.”

    But the interview not only featured a series of fuzzy, softball questions -- “Has anyone ever hurt you emotionally?,” “Are you going to stop [combatively tweeting] as president?” -- it also mirrored the way other Fox News hosts have engaged with Trump on air, shattering the illusion that Kelly is somehow different than her colleagues. A series of questions that Kelly tossed to Trump last night sounded conspicuously familiar, and for a good reason: they echoed questions that her colleagues have asked the presumptive GOP nominee over the past year.

    Take Bill O’Reilly back in March, asking Trump:

    BILL O’REILLY: Donald Trump now is not speaking as the Art of the Deal guy or The Apprentice guy. You’re not speaking anymore on that level. Now you are speaking for the United States. You may be president. I mean, so your rhetoric means so much more than it used to mean. You know, you’re in a different place. A place you have never been in. I'm just wondering how much you’ve thought about all that.

    And compare with Megyn Kelly last night:

    MEGYN KELLY: You're no longer just Donald Trump, businessman, or Donald Trump, host of Celebrity Apprentice. Now you're steps away from the presidency. Have you given any thought, in this position, to the power that your messaging has on the lives of the people you target and on the millions of people who take their cue from you?

    Megyn Kelly has spent years cultivating a reputation as an unbiased journalist, which has been boosted by a number of laudatory profiles that have largely ignored that her show “is made up largely of the kind of stories you'd find on many other Fox News shows at any other time" and that “her talent for fearmongering may be even more insidious than Trump's own.” 

  • VIDEO: Media Repeatedly Praise Donald Trump As "Presidential"


    As Donald Trump won the New York primary, media covering the news repeatedly said Trump sounds "more presidential" and "more disciplined," downplaying the bigoted, racist, and sexist things that the GOP front-runner has said throughout the course of his campaign.

    Later on primary night, Trump was caught pushing content from another white supremacist on Twitter.