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  • Yale Historian Compares America To Nazi Germany, Calling Bannon’s Media Interactions A Major Sign Of The Threat

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In an interview with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder said the threat posed by President Donald Trump means “we have at most a year to defend the Republic” and highlighted the role chief strategist Stephen Bannon is playing in that threat, including the administration’s interaction with the media.

    The Trump presidency has created no shortage of concerns about the stability of the republic. Trump has waged an unrelenting war on the press for more than a year, personally attacking dozens of journalists, falsely decrying entire news organizations as “fake news,” and even going so far as to shout down CNN’s Jim Acosta for asking a question at a press conference. It’s not just Trump, either -- Bannon, formerly of Breitbart.com, attacked the mainstream media as “the opposition party,” demanding that media “keep its mouth shut” and listen to Trump. Bannon is also known for formerly running a website that pushes pro-white nationalist viewpoints, dog-whistling to neo-Nazis, and infecting the current administration with anti-immigrant policies.

    In the February 7 interview, Snyder commented on Bannon’s interaction with the media specifically, noting that he “says in essence that he misleads the public and the media deliberately” and that Bannon’s goal is “the extinction of the whole political system.” Snyder also says the media is “worse” in America now than it was during Nazi Germany, because it is “very polarized and very concentrated.” In addition, Snyder explains that Bannon’s use of the term “opposition” when describing the media is an indicator of talk about an “authoritarian state” because it suggests some type of regime change:

    How similar is the situation between Germany of the 1930s and today’s United States?

    Of course, not everything is similar. Some things are better now than they were in the 1930s but some things are worse. The media is worse, I would say. It is very polarized and it is very concentrated. In Germany before the state shut down German newspapers, there was authentic variety that we don’t have now. People in the 1930s generally had longer attention spans than we do. On the other side, the United States is a larger country, with pockets of wealth distributed widely, and it is more connected to the world. The main advantage that we have is that we can learn from the 1930s. Again, it’s very important to stress that history does not repeat. But it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance. 

    [...]

    President Trump’s political strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that he wants to „make life as exciting as it was in the 1930s“. The first two weeks have shown how big his influence is, it seems much bigger than Reince Priebus’s or Jared Kushner’s.

    I can’t speak to intra-White House conflicts. I can only say that Mr. Trump’s inaugural address was extremely ideological. During the campaign he used the slogan “America First” and then was informed that this was the name of a movement that tried to prevent the United States from fighting Nazi Germany and was associated with nativists and white supremacists. He claimed then not to have known that. But in the inaugural address he made “America First” his central theme, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s. 

    When Bannon calls himself a „Leninist“, do Americans know what is he talking about?

    No, they usually have no idea. It is a good question. Americans have this idea that comes from Jefferson and the American Revolution that you have to rebel every so often. And they sometimes don’t make the distinction between a rebellion against injustice and the extinction of the whole political system, which is what Bannon says that he is after. The American Revolution actually preserved ideas from Britain: the rule of law being the most important. The whole justification of the American Revolution was that the British were not living up to their own principles, were not including Americans in their own system. In a broad way that that was also the argument of the civil rights movement: the system fails itself when it does not extend equal rights to all citizens. So there can be resistance and even revolution which is about meeting standards rather than about simple destruction. What Bannon says correctly about the Bolsheviks was that they aimed to completely destroy an old regime. We can slip from one to the other very easily, from rebelliousness to a complete negation of the system. Most Americans had a rule of law state for most of their lives, African Americans are an exception, and so most Americans think this will be there forever. They don’t get that a “disruption” can actually destroy much of what they take for granted. They have no notion what it means to destroy the state and how their lives would look like if the rule of law would no longer exist. I find it frightening that people who talk about the destruction of the American state are now in charge of the American state.

    [...]

    The White House statement for the Holocaust Day on January 27 didn’t mention Jews. At first it looked like a mistake but now it is official that it was intentional.

    The Holocaust reference is very important on our side of the Atlantic. If Americans have a reference point in world history, it is precisely the Holocaust, the Holocaust and let’s say Normandy, the Second World War, are the one aperture into a broader history, one where republics fall and extremes triumph. So if Steve Bannon turns the Holocaust into talk about “A lot of people have suffered” what is happening is that he is closing that aperture. The next step is to say that mainly Americans are the victims. History then dies completely and we are trapped in myth.

    [...]

    When Bannon calls the press the main „opposition party“ that should make everyone concerned. This is not only intended to cheer up Trump supporters.

    When you say that the press is the opposition, than you are advocating a regime change in the United States. When I am a Republican and say the Democrats are the opposition, we talk about our system. If I say the government is one party and the press is the opposition, then I talk about an authoritarian state. This is regime change.

    Last week Trump called those who take part in demonstrations “thugs” and “paid protestors”. This doesn’t show respect for First Amendment right, it sounds more like Putin.

    That is exactly what the Russian leadership does. The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the Republic. The point is to bring down the Republic. You can disagree with them. but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: „We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.“ When the president says that it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the Republic. You are also seducing people into a world of permanent internet lying and [away] from their own experiences with other people. Getting out to protest, this is something real and I would say something patriotic. Part of the new authoritarianism is to get people to prefer fiction and inaction to reality and action. People sit in their chairs, read the tweet and repeat the clichés: “yes, they are thugs” instead of “it is normal to get out in the streets for what you believe.” He is trying to teach people a new behavior: You just sit right where you are, read what I say and nod your head. That is the psychology of regime change.

    Today’s media environment is very different from the 1930s, everything happens so fast.

    This is part of what contemporary authoritarians do: They overwhelm you with bad news and try to make you depressed and say with resignation: “Well, what can i do?”. I think it is better to limit yourself. Read the news for half an hour a day, but don’t spend the whole day obsessing about it. Americans have to pick one thing to be confident about, and then act on it. If you care about and know about refugees, the press, global warming – choose one and talk with people around you about it. Nobody can do everything but everyone can do a little bit. And people doing their little bit will meet others doing the same, and the depression lifts.

  • A Dangerous Troll Is Now Reporting From The White House

    Gateway Pundit's New White House Correspondent Spent First Day Flashing Hate Symbol From The Briefing Room

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The internet’s most hapless political blogger now has his own White House correspondent -- a regular contributor with little reporting experience but ample ties to “alt-right” harassment -- sitting in the White House press briefing room.

    At the January 19 “Deploraball” event before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Gateway Pundit founder and “dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft announced that his outlet would have a White House correspondent with the Trump administration, and that Lucian Wintrich would fill the position. On February 13, Hoft posted a "reader alert" that Hoft and Wintrich will be attending the day's White House press briefing. Hoft confusingly wrote, "Please look for us and keep your fingers crossed that one of us is asked a question."

    Hours later, Hoft tweeted a photo of himself and Wintrich standing behind the lectern in the White House press briefing room, displaying a hand signal associated with the racist “Pepe” meme. The tweet itself also included the hashtag "Pepe" and a frog emoji, commonly understood to invoke the hate symbol

    Hoft’s political blog has often served as the single source for completely unfounded reporting that nonetheless catches fire in the right-wing internet world, until it becomes what Kellyanne Conway might deem an “alternative fact.” The frequency with which he posts hoaxes and complete fabrications as fact suggests Hoft either has a reckless and total disregard for the truth or is so incompetent he cannot separate fact from fiction.

    Most recently, Hoft’s total negligence for the truth led to an internet harassment campaign against Washington Post home-page editor Doris Truong, who he wrongly reported was captured taking secret photos of Rex Tillerson’s notes at his confirmation hearing for secretary of state on January 11. Truong was not at the hearing; she is, however, an Asian-American woman (like the person photographed at the hearing), and that was seemingly enough for Hoft to run with. Truong had already been subjected to extensive racist trolling by the time Hoft quietly corrected his post. This is Hoft’s pattern: decide what a random photo or document means without obtaining any supporting evidence, post it as factual news, watch the “alternative fact” spread, quietly change the post or claim yet another mistake, then repeat.

    The Gateway Pundit’s new White House correspondent is now attending press briefings, and it’s unclear how “brand strategist and digital creative” Lucian Wintrich, who frequently refers to the new president endearingly as “daddy,” will approach this responsibility. If his past actions and social media persona are any indication, Wintrich will follow the Gateway Pundit formula for irresponsible and dangerous reporting, and perhaps even more explicitly incite harassment from his new White House platform.

    Wintrich Is Not A Reporter

    Wintrich is a “gay conservative mouthpiece” primarily known as the artist behind a “Twinks4Trump” photography exhibit that debuted at the GOP convention last summer. He explained that he aims to be “the first rational voice that the American people have had in White House press in ages.” He recently wrote on social media, "I don’t consider myself a journalist, I consider myself the future of journalism.”

    Indeed, Wintrich does not appear to have much experience as a political reporter prior to joining The Gateway Pundit; a Nexis search of his name for the last five years reveals only a handful of articles in which he is quoted, and no bylined pieces. He has authored one opinion piece, describing his pro-Trump art, posted on The Hill last fall. Wintrich has now written about a dozen posts for The Gateway Pundit in the past few weeks; he was previously the subject of several posts on the blog, as well as on Breitbart.com, before beginning this correspondent position.

    Wintrich is also the founder and “creative director” of Rabble Media, which bills itself as “a new type of media brand providing its audience with original reporting, underserved stories, interesting perspectives, thought-provoking proposals and occasionally, breaking news.” Wintrich says he launched Rabble in late summer; the site appears to have stopped posting articles at the end of September.

    Wintrich’s experience as a writer seems to have begun with his tongue-in-cheek approach to personal harassment in college. According to a VICE profile of Wintrich, “his writings were rejected by the student newspaper” at Bard College while he was a student there, so Wintrich subsequently started a rival blog, which posted an anonymously written column referring to a fellow student’s vagina as “cold and damp” and linking to her personal Facebook page. VICE noted that “Wintrich claims that a lawyer for the school told him that his blog was perceived as a sexual threat, though he doesn’t recall why. ‘I think there was a joke about a vagina or something. It was infantile. I totally forget it.’”

    Wintrich Seems To Thrive At The Misogynist “Alt-Right” Harassment Nexus

    Here’s what else we know about Wintrich: He is close with figures of the racist and misogynist so-called “alt-right” who are known for launching online harassment campaigns that frequently target women. Wintrich’s art exhibit featured “contributors” like Breitbart.com editor and transphobic serial harasser Milo Yiannopoulos, “Pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, misogynist and racist conservative troll Gavin McInnes, and deluded “citizen journalist” vigilante James O’Keefe, among others, when he brought it to New York City in October. “We’re bringing back the Rat Pack,” Wintrich captioned a photo of Shkreli, himself, and Yiannopoulos. This group also regularly tweets about and directly at each other, praising and participating in one another’s misguided projects.

    Wintrich himself has also encouraged harassment of individuals on Twitter, posting Gizmodo writer William Turton’s personal information after Turton wrote a post criticizing pro-Trump Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s business partner. Wintrich has since deleted his tweet about Turton, which listed Turton’s personal address, phone number, and email. It read, “I think that [Turton] would love a call about what you think of his villainization of Trump supporters and attacks against Thiel.” Wintrich has also repeatedly tweeted photos of Mic.com writer Jack Smith, attempting to connect Smith to the dangerous #Pizzagate conspiracy theory and tweeting, “Someone needs to investigate.” According to Wintrich, Smith’s reporting on Wintrich’s art show may have led an LGBT veterans group to reject a potential donation Wintrich planned to make from the show’s proceeds.

    Wintrich’s Social Media Is Riddled With “Jokes” About Women’s Equality, The Transgender Community, And Sexual Assault

    Wintrich’s Twitter account has included disparaging comments about women and hate rhetoric aimed at transgender individuals, as well as jokes about sexual assault:

  • CBS News Is In Antarctica For A Series Of Reports On Climate Change

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    As part of CBS News’ “Climate Diaries” series, correspondent Mark Phillips has traveled to Antarctica to report on climate change. We’ll be posting video of the segments here as they air on CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News throughout the week.

    Phillips told TVNewser, “With any luck, the biggest take away from our reporting here will be to turn the climate change argument, which has gotten very political, back to science. The polar regions are where the evidence of climate change is greatest, and what happens here will eventually affect us all.”

    Phillips further explained that “it’s an important time to be here doing this type of reporting.” And indeed, CBS’ Anthony Mason introduced Phillips’ initial report on CBS This Morning by noting that it was occurring “at a time of uncertainty over the U.S. government’s policy towards climate change.”

    In his first report, versions of which aired on the February 13 editions of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, Phillips discussed a 100-plus-mile-long crack in the Larsen C ice shelf and the potential impact the loss of the shelf could have on sea levels that are already rising due to climate change. On CBS This Morning, Phillips stated, “It's not so much the floating sea ice from the shelf that is worrying. It’s that without the ice shelf to hold it back, the glacial ice on land will flow into the oceans more quickly and drive sea levels up even more than the 3 feet that is already predicted for the century.”

    Phillips also described a “chill in the scientific community that’s working [in Antarctica] -- a fear that the kinds of money they need for their work will be less forthcoming in the future and that there’ll be a less sympathetic ear in government for the kind of science they do.” Many scientists have expressed grave concerns about the future of climate science under President Donald Trump, who has dismissed climate change as a “hoax” and whose administration may “attempt to undermine the years of science underpinning” climate policies, as Time magazine put it.

    From the February 13 edition of CBS This Morning:

    On February 14, CBS This Morning aired Phillips’ second report from Antarctica, which focused on how climate change could be threatening the food supply of killer whales.

    In the segment, Phillips accompanied Palmer Station scientists tracking and studying sick and malnourished killer whales. Phillips explained that the scientists so far only have a hypothesis for why the whales are in bad health, but they believe that warming waters -- which have reduced the pack ice and led to fewer seals in areas where the whales normally hunt -- might be to blame.

    In Phillips’ reports on the February 15 editions of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, researchers at Palmer Station detailed how dramatic changes in Antarctica are impacting another animal found in the region -- the Adélie penguin, whose population on the island housing Palmer Station has declined by around 85 percent, from a peak of almost 9,000 to about 1,200 this year. As Phillips explained in the CBS This Morning report, “These Adélie penguins need one essential condition to thrive: they need sea ice to hunt from, and there is less of that around now,” with the sea ice season now three months shorter than it used to be.

    On CBS This Morning, Phillips also discussed how in addition to sea ice, glaciers are retreating at increasing rates, leaving Palmer Station researchers “shocked” at how dramatically the landscape has changed. Standing along the shoreline, Phillips explained that the Marr Ice Piedmont glacier is retreating so quickly that researchers were able to witness the creation of a new island in an area they had previously thought was part of the mainland. Introducing a similar version of the report on the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley noted that NASA found that last month was the third-warmest January on record and 2016 was the warmest year, adding, “Mark Phillips sees the change at the bottom of the earth.”

    Here’s Phillips’ report from the February 15 edition of CBS This Morning:

  • Trump Ally Alex Jones Warns About Reince Priebus: “Sabotage,” “Worst Of The Worst,” Connected To George Soros

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Radio host Alex Jones, who has served as an information pipeline to President Donald Trump, is pushing for the president to replace White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Jones has claimed that Priebus is attempting to “sabotage” Trump’s agenda, said that he is “the worst of the worst,” and implied that he is connected to liberal financier George Soros.

    Politico reported that Trump “is complaining to friends and allies about some of his most senior aides” and that people who have “talked with the president have begun to wonder about the future of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Several Trump campaign aides have begun to draft lists of possible Priebus replacements.”

    Alex Jones is a toxic conspiracy theorist who has claimed that the United States government perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, Sandy Hook school shooting, and other catastrophes. He is a leading media ally for Trump, who has appeared on Jones’ program and repeatedly echoed his conspiracy theories. Jones has used his platform to warn Trump about perceived threats against him, such as supposed voter fraud. He is now warning Trump about Republicans like Priebus who are purportedly trying to “sabotage” his agenda.  

    During Jones’ February 9 program, Infowars Washington, D.C., bureau chief (and discredited birther) Jerome Corsi said that he is “very suspect” of Priebus working in the White House because he is “totally GOP establishment.” Jones replied that Priebus “represents the GOP establishment that is bought and paid for by George Soros. It’s a fact.”

    Jones later said that his “sources” have told him Priebus is blocking Trump’s people from playing roles in his administration. He also said Priebus “looks like a weasel out of central casting” and that he is “the worst of the worst that tried to steal the nomination from Trump and said our votes didn’t count as citizens.”

    JEROME CORSI: There are a lot of Trump people around willing to play a role in the administration and in the media. Now Donald Trump realizes that the mainstream media is shutting out those of us who would help Trump when he realizes that the departments are still packed with John Kerry and Barack Obama supporters. There’s going to be a massive firing out of the bureaucracy and we need a bigger press room in the White House, we need more access for the internet reporters and bloggers who truly support Donald Trump. Donald Trump wants to turn the press narrative around. He is going to get these mainstream --  

    ALEX JONES: That’s right. And that’s all being blocked by Spicer under orders of Priebus. And I know for a fact, from multiple sources, Priebus is going in with anybody Trump wanted and brought in that he’s known and saying, “The president’s fired you.” And the person’s, “I want to hear from the president.” And then a day later, Spicer goes, “Let’s be friends. Let’s be friends.” Classic tactics that Reince Priebus is engaged in. I mean, just look at the guy. He looks like a weasel out of central casting. But then look at his pedigree. He is the worst of the worst that tried to steal the nomination from Trump and said our votes didn’t count as citizens. I mean, this is crazy. So Trump is delivering on his promises so far, day 18 or day 19 -- I love him, it’s amazing. The problem is you can see him being opposed in real time by his own people.

    Jones added that he can tell his audience that Priebus is “on about half-an-inch-thick ice, and the sun just came out.” He added that Trump can see “right through” Priebus’ “sabotage games” and “knows what’s going on.”

    Jones also issued a February 11 “EMERGENCY” YouTube video in which he claimed that he knows for “a fact” that Trump is “aware that it’s Reince Priebus that’s leaking most of the stuff in meetings. … He believes that Trump is going to go or something is going to happen. And he’s currying favor with the big banks, with the power structure, with those that financed the Republican Party, who've been against Trump.”

    Jones continued attacking Priebus on his February 12 show, stating: “Who is the problem? Reince Priebus. And who is holding everything up? Reince Priebus. Isn’t that just special?” Infowars posted video of Jones’ remarks on YouTube under the headline “Paul Ryan Minion, Reince Priebus, Working Against Trump.”

    After Trump hired Priebus in November, Jones said, “I do not trust Priebus at all. He is a RINO neocon galactic-level weasel. And when I learned yesterday morning that that’s who they were probably going to appoint, I just obviously wasn’t happy about it,” but he noted that he trusted Trump’s judgment.

    A likely source of Jones’ animus toward Priebus is longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who frequently contributes to Jones’ program and Infowars network. Stone has regularly attacked Priebus, labeling him a “douchebag” and calling for him to be “prosecuted” for corruption.

  • The Problem Goes Way Beyond Kellyanne Conway: Trump’s Team Of TV Surrogates Constantly Lie

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Here are some of the blatant falsehoods White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller told on the Sunday shows this week: 

    • Fourteen percent of noncitizens in the United States “are registered to vote.”
    • Voter fraud is a “very serious” problem in New Hampshire.
    • The White House has provided “enormous evidence” to confirm widespread voter fraud in the U.S.
    • White House press secretary Sean Spicer, “as always, is 100 percent correct.”

    It was a stunning display of mendacity.

    So here’s my question: If President Donald Trump's adviser Kellyanne Conway has a widely acknowledged “credibility” problem, given her long history of fabrication on behalf of her boss, how should the press describe the trouble now hovering over Miller, who became the latest Trump TV surrogate who forcefully wrestles the truth to the ground?

    Additionally, how should the press describe Spicer’s daily White House briefings, which are accentuated with bold fabrications?

    For anyone under the illusion that Conway was an outlier among Trump's TV surrogates, we now have overwhelming proof that she’s simply part of a team at war with reality. And that means the press needs to expand its circle of who is deemed to have potentially crippling “credibility” problems.

    It was Conway’s recent Bowling Green “massacre” fabrication that received lots of attention in the press, as did CNN’s decision to decline her as a State of the Union guest last week, in part because of questions about her trustworthiness. Days later, the news channel did invite Conway back for an interview, but questions about her veracity certainly linger and it continues to be a topic of intense media analysis inside the Beltway.

    And it should be.

    But the debate shouldn’t revolve around only Conway. She’s not the overarching problem. This current crisis of confidence is about an entire White House philosophy of dishonesty driven by Trump himself. And that certainly includes Trump TV surrogates such as Spicer and Miller, who are quickly amassing resumes built around pushing daily falsehoods. If news producers are avoiding Conway, they should also be pondering the worth of hosting Spicer and Miller.

    Have we ever had a modern-day press secretary who put some many substantial lies up on the board in just a few short weeks?

    From Media Matters’ running tally: 

    LIE 1: Spicer Doubled Down On The False Claim That Trump Had The Most-Watched Inaugural Of All Time

    LIE 2: Spicer Falsely Claimed That Trump’s Feud With The Intelligence Agency Was A Myth

    LIE 3: Spicer Hyped Trump’s False Claim That Millions Voted Illegally In The 2016 Election

    LIE 4: Spicer Claimed Trump Won “The Most” Electoral Votes “Since Any Republican Since Reagan”

    LIE 5: Spicer Claimed 2001 And 2017 National Security Council Principals Committee Makeups Are "100 Percent The Same"

    LIE 6: Spicer Claimed CNN Retracted Statements Questioning Kellyanne Conway’s Credibility

    LIE 7: Spicer Claimed There Wasn’t Concern With Obama’s Criticism Of The Supreme Court

    Additionally, Spicer has repeatedly defended as a “success” the U.S.-led military raid in Yemen last month -- which The New York Times described as a situation where "everything that could go wrong did."

    Spicer told reporters the raid was planned during the Obama administration, and that the goal was “intelligence-gathering.” But NPR reported that neither claim was true. (The plan was to nab high-ranking Al Qaeda leaders, which didn’t happen.)

    While Spicer has gotten criticism (and the SNL treatment) over his repeated lying, he’s still drawn some friendly coverage recently. "On the airwaves ... he is daytime television’s new big hit,” the Times reported, even though ratings have ticked up just 10 percent when Spicer’s briefings air live. The Times also downplayed Spicer’s dishonesty in a second, recent news article highlighting how Spicer is “shaking up” the briefings.

    And now we have the arrival of Miller as Trump’s favorite new TV surrogate. Pushing an array of previously debunked claims, assertions, and flat-out fabrications, Miller gave such a strange, detached-from-reality television performance that you have to wonder about the parallel universe that’s being assembled inside the White House these days.

    For the record, Kellyanne Conway isn’t the only one building it.

  • Spicer Attacks CNN's Multi-Sourced Corroboration Of Dossier On Trump-Russia Ties As "Fake News"

    Sean Spicer: “This Is More Fake News. It Is About Time CNN Focused On The Success The President Has Had”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A CNN report that multiple US intelligence and law enforcement officials had independently corroborated “some” of the details in the dossier on President Trump’s connections to Russia was dismissed by White House press secretary Sean Spicer as “fake news” who then insisted CNN instead cover good news for the administration.

    The White House has repeatedly used fake news to support their political agenda, in addition to his family and campaign surrogates’ documented consumption of fake news. The Trump White House has repeatedly attacked unfavorable news coverage and news outlets, especially CNN, as “fake news;” the president even insisted that “any negative polls are fake news.” Trump’s team has also threatened CNN reporters for doing their jobs and previously banned members of the administration from appearing on the network. The administration’s response to unfavorable coverage seems to be to attack it as “fake news,” echoing misuse of the term in conservative media. 

    On February 10, CNN reported that US investigators had “corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier” about Trump’s Russian ties, specifically details relating “to conversations between foreign nationals.” CNN reported that “the corroboration ... has given US intelligence and law enforcement ‘greater confidence’ in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier.” When reached for comment, Spicer lashed out at the network and replied that the White House was “disgusted by CNN's fake news reporting.” Spicer later called back to again assail CNN’s report, which cited “multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials,” as “more fake news.”:

    For the first time, US investigators say they have corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent, multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials tell CNN. As CNN first reported, then-President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the existence of the dossier prior to Trump's inauguration.

    None of the newly learned information relates to the salacious allegations in the dossier. Rather it relates to conversations between foreign nationals. The dossier details about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs.

    [...]

    The corroboration, based on intercepted communications, has given US intelligence and law enforcement "greater confidence" in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its contents, these sources say.

    Reached for comment this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, "We continue to be disgusted by CNN's fake news reporting."

    Spicer later called back and said, "This is more fake news. It is about time CNN focused on the success the President has had bringing back jobs, protecting the nation, and strengthening relationships with Japan and other nations. The President won the election because of his vision and message for the nation."

  • Day After Flynn Bombshell, Trump Calls On Only Murdoch Outlets At Press Conference

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Following a bombshell report that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may have violated the Logan Act, President Donald Trump called on reporters only from outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch at a February 10 U.S.-Japan joint press conference, favoring news sources that have been major supporters and receiving no questions about the Flynn report.

    Speaking at a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump took questions from the New York Post’s Daniel Halper and Fox Business’ Blake Burman, both of whom asked about an appeals court decision upholding the suspension of his Muslim ban executive order. Neither reporter asked Trump about reports that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had spoken with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. about Russian sanctions prior to Trump’s inauguration, which Trump aides had previously denied. If it’s true, Flynn could be in violation of the Logan Act, which, as The New York Times explains, “prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments in disputes involving the American government.”

    Murdoch has staunchly supported Trump since he began his presidential campaign. The media mogul recently sat in on an interview Trump had with one of his British newspapers and, according to the Financial Times, Trump’s daughter Ivanka was until recently “a trustee for a large bloc of shares in 21st Century Fox and News Corp that belongs to Rupert Murdoch’s two youngest daughters.” Trump has also been helpful to Murdoch in return, asking for his input on Federal Communications Commission chairman nominees.

    Murdoch’s support of Trump has directly impacted the former’s outlets. The New York Post was one of the only papers in the country to endorse Trump during either the primary or general election campaign. And according to New York magazine, Fox News under Murdoch’s direction has been pushed to go “in a more pro-Trump direction.” Fox's pro-Trump direction can also be seen on Fox Business, where hosts have spun polls to push "Trumponomics." Reporters at another Murdoch-owned outlet, The Wall Street Journal, have expressed concerns that they have been pressured “to reflect pro-Trump viewpoints.”

    Trump’s decision to take questions from only these conservative-leaning outlets also fits into a broader administration approach of seemingly focusing on right-wing outlets in order to avoid challenging queries.

  • Wall Street Journal Columnist Praises Trump’s $100 Billion Gift To Wall Street

    The Journal’s Greg Ip Calls Trump’s Watering Down Of Consumer Protections “Regulatory Relief”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    The Wall Street Journal’s top financial columnist praised President Donald Trump for issuing executive orders aimed to scale back consumer protections in the financial industry because the rollbacks would boost profits for big banks, ignoring the reality that the rules were put in place to protect the public, not the banking industry.

    The Journal’s chief economics commentator, Greg Ip, hailed recent actions by Trump to curb government oversight of big banks in a February 8 column, claiming this would provide “regulatory relief” by addressing “a serious flaw” in banking regulations that focused merely on “financial stability and consumer protection” and “largely ignored the [regulatory] costs.” Ip noted that consumer advocate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and European Central Bank president Mario Draghi took issue with letting banks have more leeway, but he dismissed their concerns, stating, “The worriers should relax.” From The Wall Street Journal:

    The worriers should relax. In the 10 years since the financial crisis began, the regulatory pendulum has moved relentlessly in the direction of tougher restrictions on finance. Mr. Trump’s order reverses the direction of the pendulum but there is little sign his administration wants it back to where it was in 2007.

    His order does, however, address a serious flaw in the post-crisis regulatory crackdown: In pursuit of financial stability and consumer protection, it largely ignored the costs of forgone lending, economic growth and consumer choice. Mr. Trump has signaled those costs must now be taken into account. He has asked his Treasury Secretary (now awaiting confirmation) to report back in 120 days on how well current regulations promote growth, efficiency and competitiveness. Over time, that could generate a better balanced supply of credit to a wider range of companies and households without making the financial system much riskier.

    Ip continued that the consumer protections built into the Dodd-Frank Act, the CARD Act, and the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, which requires financial advisers to work in their clients’ best interests, “have carved into banks’ profitability” since their pre-recession peak. Ip concluded that the rules enacted after the 2008 financial crisis do little to prevent another financial crisis, except for rules that increased the amount of hard money a bank must hold in reserve relative to its debt risks. But Ip claimed the Trump administration “doesn’t appear to plan on rolling [capital requirements] back much.”

    The executive orders that Ip praised directed departments to account for the regulatory costs of consumer protections when deciding which rules to roll back, which the Journal’s own reporting has concluded could create a $100 billion windfall for investors by loosening capital requirements at banks. These capital requirements are the same ones that Ip argued stand “the best chance of preventing another financial crisis.”

    Ip argued that “a serious flaw” in the current slate of consumer protections is that they focus on protecting consumers and “in theory” could “reduce growth,” but in reality the three biggest banks reported strong fourth quarter earnings last year and CNBC reported that banks enjoyed record profits in the second quarter of 2016. These reports coincide with a February 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the regulatory structure created after Dodd-Frank “has contributed to the overall growth and stability in the U.S. economy.”

    Ip’s emphasis on bank profits fails to recognize that Dodd-Frank, the CARD Act, and the fiduciary rule are designed to minimize exploitation, not maximize profit. Dodd-Frank was enacted to protect the economy by empowering the Federal Reserve System with broader banking oversight and created new protections for consumers through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CARD Act created even more protections for consumers, including limiting interest rate hikes on credit cards. The fiduciary rule ensures consumers receive financial advice catered to their best interests rather than their adviser’s bottom line, something that Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) characterized as a“no-brainer” given that the investment advice industry “makes billions of dollars from conflicted advice.”

    If Ip really wants the Trump administration to focus on increasing bank profits, heaping praise on executive orders that will weaken the economy and undermine an already profitable financial industry is a bizarre place to start. Jeff Spross of The Week put it bluntly in a February 6 column blasting Trump’s regulatory rollback: “Who on Earth would view deregulating the financial industry as a good idea?” Writing for The Guardian, Nils Pratley didn’t mince words either, characterizing the concept that banks are over-regulated as a “half-baked idea” and “nonsense” while adding that there is little evidence of consumer protections standing in the way of the industry’s growth.

    Ip’s decision to defend Trump’s attempts to deregulate the financial sector may lend credence to reports that the Journal is intentionally taking a softer tone with the president and pressuring reporters “to reflect pro-Trump viewpoints” in articles. The Journal’s behavior is not surprising, as its right-wing editorial board has led a years-long campaign against consumer protections.

  • Legal Expert Trump Erroneously Cited To Defend Muslim Ban Actually Thinks Trump Is A Threat To Democracy

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The national security law expert miscited by President Donald Trump to criticize a court ruling against his administration is actually a frequent critic of the president who has called the president’s travel ban “malevolence tempered by incompetence.”

    Following the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s February 9 unanimous ruling against the Trump administration that declined to reinstate the administration’s executive order targeting people from seven majority-Muslim countries, Trump attacked the decision by citing on Twitter a Lawfare article authored by the site’s editor-in-chief, Benjamin Wittes:

    Unfortunately for Trump, the article he cited actually reached the conclusion that the 9th Circuit “is correct to leave the [temporary restraining order] in place.” (ThinkProgress notes that Trump likely discovered the article by watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe, which had a segment highlighting the portion of the Lawfare article Trump referenced on Twitter.)

    Wittes, who is also a senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, took to Twitter to ridicule Trump over other parts of his Lawfare article that Trump could have cited:

    Wittes also referenced his harsh critique of the travel ban executive order in a January 28 Lawfare article (headlined “Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence: Trump’s Horrifying Executive Order on Refugees and Visas”), where he wrote that “the malevolence of President Trump’s Executive Order on visas and refugees is mitigated chiefly -- and perhaps only -- by the astonishing incompetence of its drafting and construction”:

    He also shared some of his past criticism of the president, such as his routine argument that Trump is a threat to democracy in the United States:

    Wittes also called Trump’s patriotism into question after Trump held a July 2016 press conference where he encouraged Russia to commit espionage against his then-opponent Hillary Clinton. In a July 27 article, Wittes wrote, “I am pretty careful about not questioning people's patriotism, but when a presidential candidate calls on a foreign intelligence service to engage in operations against the United States, he leaves us little choice.” That same day he co-authored another article that described Trump as a “useful idiot” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, noting that Trump “has taken public positions exceedingly favorable to Russia and far outside of the American mainstream.”

  • Morning Shows Largely Ignore Trump Adviser's Possibly Illegal Communications With Russia

    Fox News And NBC Ignored The Reports, While CNN’s Coverage Led The Way

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Morning news programs on cable and broadcast television largely ignored reports that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn seemingly engaged in “inappropriate and potentially illegal” communications with the Russian government, spending less than 30 minutes on it across 15 hours of programming.

    The Washington Post reported on February 9 that Flynn “privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office.” The Post explained that “Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin.” The New York Times pointed out that the conversations “raise the prospect that Mr. Flynn violated a law against private citizens’ engaging in diplomacy, and directly contradict statements made by Trump advisers.”

    However, the story was all but neglected on morning shows across broadcast and cable news networks, with the exception of CNN. The February 10 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today spent a combined total of 2 minutes and 26 seconds on the story, with Good Morning America spending 1 minute and 32 seconds on it and CBS This Morning devoting only 54 seconds to the story. The story wasn’t mentioned at all on NBC’s Today.

    On cable news, Fox News’ Fox & Friends also spent no time on the reports during the February 10 edition. MSNBC’s Morning Joe barely fared better, discussing the story for only 3 minutes and 3 seconds during the three hour show. CNN’s New Day, on the other hand, led the pack, spending 20 minutes and 2 seconds discussing the new reports.

    Fox News and NBC’s decisions to ignore a story that is problematic for the Trump administration on their morning shows also fits into their patterns of providing favorable coverage to Trump and normalizing his incredibly abnormal administration.

    During the campaign, broadcast and cable news were reluctant to devote a significant amount of time to investigative reports about Trump and those around him. Instead, outlets consistently allowed Trump to hijack the media narrative and drown out negative coverage through his tweets and antics.

    Graphs by Sarah Wasko