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  • Vox Slams Media For Placing Style Over Substance In Aftermath Of Trump's Debate Meltdown

    Ezra Klein: Trade “Was Trump’s Best Portion Of The Debate … But He Didn’t Know What He Was Talking About”

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Even as they criticized the rest of his performance for its lies and a general incoherence on basic policy specifics, mainstream and conservative media personalities are largely in agreement that Republican nominee Donald Trump earned more style points than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the first half of their presidential debate on September 26, which focused on the economy and international trade.

    But as Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein argued in a September 27 blog, the belief among journalists and pundits that Trump “won” the opening economic portion -- or any portion -- of the debate only holds water if you grade the candidate’s braggadocious style as more important than his vacant substance (emphasis added):

    This is how it felt to me, too. Stylistically, this section was Trump’s best portion of the debate. He kept slamming Clinton on NAFTA — "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” — and spoke with the confidence of a man who knew what he was talking about.

    But he didn’t know what he was talking about.

    What was stylistically Trump’s best portion of the debate was substantively among his worst (I say among his worst because it is hard to beat the section where he said he both would and would not honor the NATO treaty, and then said he both would and would not adhere to the first-strike doctrine on nuclear weapons). Trump was arguing the central economic theory of his campaign — and he was just wrong. In a section that began with him demanding solutions for our economic woes, he showed himself completely confused as to the nature of not just our economic problems, but the underlying labor market.

    The tone of his voice and the confidence of his delivery shouldn’t distract us from the hollowness of his remarks.

    From his introductory remarks, Trump unleashed a torrent of falsehoods during the first presidential debate of the general election. Journalists and commentators from across the political spectrum slammed the GOP nominee for his seeming lack of preparation and inability to execute a clear debate strategy. Focus groups of undecided voters conducted by CNN and by conservative pollster Frank Luntz agreed that Clinton trounced Trump on the stage, and a national poll fielded by CNN showed that debate viewers came away thinking Trump had lost “overwhelmingly.” Trump was even needled by reporters for revealing “his famously thin skin” and for failing to control his impulses and “los[ing] the battle against himself.”

    And yet, somehow, numerous professional debate-watchers seemed to think Trump actually performed well during the opening portion of the debate, when he attacked Clinton and President Obama on the economy. Ignoring that the country Trump was describing doesn’t actually exist, journalists largely seemed to agree that Trump’s jeremiad was nonetheless effective.

    Professional economists who watched the debate, on the other hand, savaged Trump for his repeated lies about the American economy. Trump falsely claimed the American labor market is being hollowed out by trade even when job creation is steady, he reiterated a false right-wing media claim that American incomes are stagnant when they are rising, he repeated his own false claim that the Federal Reserve is acting “politically” to prop up the economic recovery while claiming at the same time that the economy isn’t really recovering, and he lied about his impossible plan to pay down the national debt. And Trump did all of these things during a segment of the debate that commentators currently argue he won.

    For months, media critics have lamented how Trump is often graded “on a curve” for his performances and public statements, noting that he is “held to a different standard than Clinton” and his other political counterparts. The widespread perception that Trump outdid himself during the opening minutes of the debate while spouting a laundry list of lies about the economy and trade, proves how persistent this problem remains.

  • Trump And The Pitfalls Of Relying On Stop-And-Frisk Myths Three Years Too Late

     After Lester Holt Fact Check, Trump Now Confused About What Version Of Stop And Frisk He Wants

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    One of the dangers of haphazardly reviving right-wing media myths is that some falsehoods are much trickier than others to walk back. During the first presidential debate of 2016, GOP nominee Donald Trump learned this the hard way, when moderator Lester Holt of NBC News fact-checked him cold about the unconstitutional version of stop and frisk that the Republican presidential nominee recently proposed as a nationwide model.

    During the September 26 debate, Trump once again invoked his support for New York City’s past application of stop and frisk, which was struck down by a federal judge three years ago and abandoned on appeal, much to the disappointment of right-wing media proponents of “order” over constitutional protections. When Holt responded that “stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men,” Trump snapped back, “No, you’re wrong. … If you look at it, throughout the country, there are many places where it's allowed.”

    But Holt was right. And that’s true without even getting into the fact that contrary to Trump’s assertions, the tactic was a proven failure at reducing violent crime in New York City.

    The generalized police practice of stop and frisk may be a common one used across the country, but if the way it’s specifically practiced results in racial profiling, it violates the federal Constitution’s protections against equal protection violations and unlawful search and seizure. That’s exactly what happened in the since-abandoned version practiced in New York City, which was exactly what Holt pointed out. If that’s the version Trump supports, he is supporting an unconstitutional policy that impermissibly discriminates on the basis of race. If he instead merely supports the version that is “allowed” “throughout the country,” then how is that a solution for reducing crime rates when it’s already in effect?

    This issue first cropped up during this campaign season on September 21, when Fox News’ Sean Hannity hosted a town hall for Trump, this one advertised as part of the nominee’s outreach to African-American voters. During the recorded event (which was bumped from airing that night due to protests over another questionable police shooting of a black man, this time in Charlotte, NC), Trump made the surprising proposal that his plan for protecting black residents of the “inner cities” was to bring back the widely reviled New York twist on stop and frisk that was struck down in federal court as unconstitutional racial profiling.

    When Trump’s unaired comments leaked, media outlets immediately began calling out his support for an abandoned and racially discriminatory policing method as a peculiar form of outreach to black voters. In response, the next morning Trump falsely claimed on the September 22 edition of Fox & Friends that he really only meant that it should be brought back in Chicago – a city he apparently was unaware already employs the practice.

    It was these confusing contradictions -- and Trump’s refusal to admit that his much-promoted “outreach” to African-American voters included a promise to stop and search them on the street because of the color of their skin -- that led Holt to try to set the record straight during the debate.

    In the wake of this and the many other aspects of Trump’s disastrous debate performance, the nominee’s supporters began spinning hard, including by making the false claim that Holt had somehow claimed stop and frisk was unconstitutional everywhere. Trump supporter, former New York City mayor, and frequent stop-and-frisk defender Rudolph Giuliani was particularly vocal. First he falsely smeared Holt’s fact check, arguing on Fox News that “Lester Holt's statement was completely ignorant and completely uncalled for, and he shouldn't get involved in a legal issue he doesn't know a darn thing about.” Later, Giuliani added Clinton to his criticism on the issue, saying she’s “totally wrong and completely ignorant” about stop and frisk. He also tried to separate himself from the actions of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who were at the helm when the stop-and-frisk policies they inherited from Giuliani’s mayorship were ruled unconstitutional. “It’s not unconstitutional if you do it the right way -- and that's what [Trump] is talking about, doing it the right way,” said Giuliani. “It was never found unconstitutional when I did it.”

    But Trump has specifically praised Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policies that were ruled unconstitutional – and he recently affirmed (intentionally or not) that this unconstitutional version of the practice still has his support.

    And this was the dilemma Trump faced as Holt accurately fact-checked his embrace of New York City’s past application of unconstitutional stop and frisk. The right-wing media bubble out of which Trump plucked his stop-and-frisk soundbite has regularly been concerned with “order” first and the U.S. Constitution second (if ever). If he stuck with that, at least it would be intellectually honest. On the other hand, the “doing it the right way” stop and frisk approach Giuliani is falling back on to cover up for Trump has been in place for almost 50 years under the Supreme Court decision Terry v. Ohio -- so there’s no need for Trump to claim he’ll bring it back.

    So which one is it?

    It’s not Lester Holt’s fault that Trump and his surrogates can’t or won’t explain themselves. Some myths can’t survive outside the bubble.

  • Fox News’ Sham Effort To Prove Donald Trump Isn’t Lying About Iraq

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    There is no Donald Trump lie better-documented than his constantly repeated falsehood that he opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. During last night’s debate, he was pummeled on the issue by moderator Lester Holt and numerous fact-checkers. Dutifully doing damage control for the Republican nominee, Fox News is now trying to obscure the record, claiming that “history backs The Donald.”

    As numerous fact-checkers have noted, contrary to his claims that he was “totally against the war in Iraq” from the beginning, in 2002, more than six months before the invasion of Iraq, Trump was asked by radio host Howard Stern if he was “for invading Iraq.” He responded, “Yeah, I guess so. You know, I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

    Trump struggled to explain why he keeps lying about this during the September 26 debate as Holt repeatedly pointed out that he had originally supported the war. At one point, Trump claimed that he had done “an interview with [Fox News anchor] Neil Cavuto” which he claimed vindicated him.

    But the Cavuto interview in question has been reviewed by numerous fact-checkers that concluded it did not support his claims to be against the war. Fox News, on the other hand, is ready and willing to use the interview to clear Trump of a months-long campaign of lies.

    An unbylined FoxNews.com article claimed Trump was right, reporting that the January 2003 interview “backs up Trump on Iraq War opposition”:

    After all the clamor for moderators to fact-check the candidates during Monday night's presidential debate, Donald Trump flipped the script on Lester Holt by rejecting his assertion Trump backed the war in Iraq - and history backs The Donald.

    [...]

    Cavuto himself picked up the thread post-debate on Fox Business Network, unearthing the clip Trump referenced, from January 28, 2003 – Nearly two months before the Iraq War began on March 20. In the video, Cavuto asks Trump how much time President Bush should spend on the economy vs. on Iraq.

    “Well, I’m starting to think that people are much more focused now on the economy,” Trump said. “They’re getting a little bit tired of hearing ‘We’re going in, we’re not going in.’ Whatever happened to the days of Douglas MacArthur? Either do it or don’t do it.”

    Trump continued: “Perhaps he shouldn’t be doing it yet. And perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations.”

    Fox’s article ignores that Trump’s comments came three months after the war was authorized; that Trump did not explicitly say he opposed the invasion during that interview; or that Trump again did not say that he opposed the invasion in a subsequent interview with Cavuto in March 2003, after the war began, when he said that it “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”

    BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski called the Fox article “embarrassing” and “complete bullshit,” noting that fact-checkers had reviewed the “unearth[ed]” clip and concluded that it did not support Trump’s claims, while Fox had framed it “exactly how Trump wanted you to.” Indeed:

    • CNN has reported that Trump “never said [the war] should not be undertaken” during the Cavuto interview, adding, “It wasn't until August 2004 -- 17 months after the invasion began and the war was being widely criticized -- that Trump came out fully against the war.” CNN concluded that Trump had lied about being against the war from the start.

    • Factcheck.org noted that Trump “offers no opinion on what Bush should do” during the January 2003 Cavuto interview, concluding that there is “no evidence” Trump fought against the invasion.

    • The Washington Post FactChecker blog has repeatedly referenced the Cavuto quote, noting that Trump did not take a position on the invasion during that interview and frequently criticizing Trump’s claims about opposing the war from the beginning as “bogus.”

    • PolitiFact pointed out that Trump “didn’t speak against going to war” during the Cavuto interview, concluding that Trump’s claims about opposing the war are false.

    Only Fox News is willing to claim that the Cavuto interview “backs The Donald.” That’s not surprising given their months-long campaign in support of Trump.

    UPDATE: As Kaczynski and Post Fact Checker reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee have pointed out, Cavuto aired the same January 2003 interview clip in February. But at the time, Cavuto said that Trump's January 2003 comments  "could have left you with a different impression" than Trump's false claim that he had always opposed the war. Cavuto added that Trump was "not bashing the president ... nor is he fully endorsing Iraq, but he's saying some clear decision is required."
     
  • Online Polls Are “Garbage,” But Fox News Still Cites Them

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox News and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hyped online post-debate polls to claim that Trump won the debate, saying that “every poll” showed that he “did better” than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But online polls involve “a self-selecting group of respondents,” and journalists and polling experts generally view them as unreliable -- “garbage” even.

  • Following Widespread Derision Of Debate Performance, Trump Returns To Fox Cocoon While Surrogates Do Real Interviews

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump retreated to Fox News’ Fox & Friends for a friendly interview following widespread criticism of his September 26 presidential debate performance which was deemed a loss for Trump, while his campaign surrogates took real interviews on other cable and broadcast news networks.

    Journalists across the political spectrum lambasted Trump’s September 26 presidential debate performance, criticizing the false statements he made -- and that debate moderator Lester Holt repeatedly challenged -- on numerous issues including the Iraq War, birtherism, and his tax returns.  Reporters noted that Trump spent much of the debate on the defensive regarding those issues and that he repeatedly interrupted both Holt and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Other media figures slammed Trump for bragging that he got President Obama to release his long-form birth certificate and for his false claim that Clinton’s 2008 campaign started the racist birther conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace. Voters and commentators proclaimed that Trump had lost the debate to Clinton, with some calling the performance “an unmitigated disaster” and a “terrible night” for Trump.

    The following day, Trump retreated to Fox News to discuss the debate with the hosts of Fox & Friends. The show has a history of buddying up with Trump, giving him a platform to push false claims including that President Obama was not born in the United States, and Trump has lauded the show’s hosts in return. The show’s September 27 interview with Trump continued its softball history with the candidate. Rather than challenging Trump on any of his false statements, the hosts asked questions such as, “So how do you think it went last night?” and, “Do you feel that Lester Holt asked Hillary Clinton an equal number of hostile questions?” The hosts joined Trump in criticizing Holt, with co-host Steve Doocy claiming he “leaned a little over into the left lane” in contrast to Matt Lauer’s “fair and balanced” performance at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum (for which Lauer has been widely criticized). Co-host Ainsley Earhardt even praised Trump for his response to Clinton’s accurate claim that the federal government had sued him for housing discrimination, saying, “I did like how you responded to that, though, because when they throw those things at you, and you’re -- being in the audience, I didn't know about that. And then when you explain it, then you’re like, ‘Oh, OK, well that makes sense.’” The hosts also gave Trump space to attack, without any pushback, a former Miss Universe winner and to insult her weight.

    In contrast with Trump’s cocoon on Fox’s morning show, Trump surrogates took harder interviews at other networks. Hosts on NBC’s Today and CBS This Morning challenged Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), about why Trump took credit for spurring President Obama to release his birth certificate, about whether Trump “lie[d]” when he falsely claimed he never said climate change was a hoax, and why Trump bragged about possibly not paying taxes. On CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the hosts pressed Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway over whether Trump’s birther answer was appropriate and whether he would apologize for his birther campaign. They also asked about Trump’s climate change stance and the quality of Trump’s debate performance overall.

    Trump’s retreat to Fox News continues a recent trend. Fox media reporter Howard Kurtz reported in June that Trump was scaling back on interviews with networks other than Fox. A Media Matters analysis found that between September 7, when Trump appeared on NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum, and September 22, Trump gave seven interviews to Fox News, totaling more than 1 hour and 40 minutes of airtime. During the same time frame, he had not appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, or MSNBC. Given Trump’s withdrawal to a network that repeatedly delivers softball interviews, it perhaps is not surprising that he struggled when he was actually fact-checked by a journalist at the debate. Responding to CNN host Carol Costello’s observation that Trump’s Fox & Friends interview did not include “difficult questions,” CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter noted that Trump had “mostly sheltered himself within conservative media” and said that he had “doubts about whether it's a winning strategy now.” And as The New York Times’ Alex Burns noted of the Fox & Friends interview, “[T]his is how you end up unprepared for real questions and real heat in a debate.”

  • Fox's Alternate Reality On New York City's Murder Rate

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News used a misleading chart featuring incomplete data to defend Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s false claim made during the first presidential debate that “murders are up” in New York City. Fox’s chart used data from 2014 to 2015 to demonstrate a rise in murder rates, but did not include complete data showing that murder rates in New York City are down in 2016 from the same point last year.

  • Trump Can’t Make Up His Mind On Lester Holt’s Debate Performance 

    Trump Reverses Course On Praise Of Holt After Right-Wing Media Find Fault

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Less than 12 hours after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his campaign praised NBC’s Lester Holt for asking “very fair” questions during the first presidential debate, Trump walked back his support of Holt, stating that he asked “very unfair questions at the end” of the debate. Trump’s reversal echoed right-wing media figures who claimed Holt was tougher on Trump than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and argued that Holt should have brought up Clinton’s emails and the Clinton Foundation.