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  • Embracing The Clinton Crazies, Trump Becomes AM Talk Radio’s Nominee For President

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Rolling out a 1996-era campaign that primarily targets Bill Clinton instead of Hillary, Donald Trump continues to wallow in all kinds of conspiracies that were once eagerly promoted by right-wing “Clinton Crazies” two decades ago. Those were the hardcore Clinton haters who spent the 1990s absorbing AM talk radio’s chronic toxicity and obsessing over the president’s possibly murderous ways.

    By digging up long-forgotten `90s attack lines and pushing them today, Trump seems content to focus his campaign on the distant past, and on the Clinton who isn’t running for president in 2016. In doing so though, Trump has emerged as right-wing radio’s dream Republican nominee, someone eager to debase public debate and to wallow in not-even-half-baked conspiracy theories.

    So the good news for the Clinton Crazies is that Trump’s running an AM talk radio campaign for president. The bad news for the GOP? Trump’s running an AM talk radio campaign for president.

    “He’s never been involved in policy making or party building or the normal things a candidate would do. … His whole frame of reference is daytime Fox News and Infowars,” Alex Jones’ conspiracy website. That, according to a Republican strategist quoted in today’s New York Times.

    Trump’s unorthodox primary run this year has set off countless intramural spats within the conservative movement, and specifically pitting well-known Republican allies against Trump, at least temporarily. (See: National Review and Megyn Kelly.) But talk radio – outside of some prominent anti-Trump voices like Glenn Beck and Mark Levin -- has largely remained Trump’s key ally and helped normalize his radical behavior.

    As Michael Brendan Dougherty recently wrote in The Week:

    Donald Trump talks about politics the way talk-radio hosts do, like a dramatic clash of personalities. This is a very different view of politics from the one espoused by conservative opinion writers, where politics are questions of policy, popular opinion as it exists, and the structure of institutions that shape the decisions of politicians.

    Media observers outside the talk radio bubble, and from across the political spectrum, shook their heads in amazement at Trump’s decision to resurrect the Clinton Crazies’ fever swamp touchstone: the 1993 suicide death of Vince Foster, a longtime Clinton aide and friend who was serving as the White House’s deputy counsel. 

    “He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide,” Trump said of Foster’s relationship with the Clintons at the time of his death. “It’s the one thing with her, whether it’s Whitewater or whether it’s Vince or whether it’s Benghazi. It’s always a mess with Hillary,” Trump told The Washington Post.

    When even a professional conspiracy theorist like Glenn Beck suggests Trump’s gone too far with the Foster nonsense, it might be time to reel it back it in. “We were joking on the air yesterday, how long before he gets to the list of the people that the Clintons have killed. Well, yesterday, he started with Vince Foster,” noted Beck.  

    The fact Trump reached for the preposterous Foster card just highlights how, within the insular world of right-wing politics, the topic -- like so many Clinton conspiracies -- maintains a strong following.

    In 2007, while preparing for a possible Hillary Clinton nomination, Fox News took the fact-free plot out of storage. Sean Hannity led the charge, suggesting Foster was murdered, asking if there had been a Clinton-led “coverup,” and teasing "the strange and unanswered questions involving the death of Vince Foster."

    Just ugly and reckless stuff.

    More recently, Rush Limbaugh suggested Bernie Sanders was worried Hillary Clinton would have him shot, like Vince Foster. And while promoting his anti-Clinton book on talk radio, author Peter Schweizer was told by host Dana Loesch, "There is always that concern for anyone who goes up against the Clinton machine that they could be Vince Fostered," and asked if he considered that possibility when "getting himself security.” Schweizer responded, "Yeah, I mean look -- there are security concerns that arise in these kinds of situations."

    For those who weren’t around, or weren’t actively engaged in the early '90s, the Vince Foster conspiratorial attack is basically the equivalent to birtherism during the Obama era -- if birthers had also accused Obama of murdering somebody while supposedly growing up in Kenya. (Note that birther architect Joseph Farah from WorldNetDaily was also a vocal Vince Foster conspiracy advocate.)

    Like birtherism and white nationalists, Vince Foster chatter makes professional Republicans cringe when it arises during the campaign season when the party’s trying to put on its best face for November. But Trump has now made the phony `90s claim synonymous with the party. 

    Not surprisingly, there’s been a lot of shorthand this week in terms of the Foster story as journalists try to sum up Trump’s `90s reference in one or two sentences. But that shorthand doesn’t do justice to the Foster story, which means many journalists aren’t doing justice to Trump current lunacy.

    The facts: Foster was the deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in Northern Virginia's Fort Marcy Park on July 20, 1993, not far from Washington, D.C. According to multiple investigations, Foster died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His suicide and the fictionalized plot where the president and his wife hatched some sort of plot to murder their friend (he knew too much!), quickly become one of the more despicable claims that was casually lobbed in the 1990s. Conservatives, led by Limbaugh, incessantly cast doubt on Foster's suicide, suggesting instead that the Clinton White House had murdered Foster and covered it up.

    But there must have been legitimate questions if the right-wing scheme has lived on so long, right?

    Wrong.

    Jamison Foser, writing for Media Matters in 2010 [emphasis added]:

    Like any good conspiracy theorist, they became more and more certain of foul play as time went on -- their certainty only reinforced by facts and evidence and official investigations to the contrary.

    The United States Park Police investigated Foster's death and ruled it a suicide; the conspiracy theorists disagreed and demanded another investigation. Whitewater special prosecutor Robert Fiske (a Republican) investigated the death, concluding it was a suicide. The conspiracy theorists were unsatisfied, and demanded more. Congressional committees investigated (with Republican Dan Burton of Indiana going so far as to shoot up his vegetable garden in a creative if misguided attempt to prove that Foster was murdered) but they, too, failed to produce any evidence of murder. The conspiracy theorists were unswayed. Whitewater independent counsel Ken Starr, leaving no stone unturned in his effort to find something -- anything -- to make Clinton look bad, investigated. Starr, too, ruled the death a suicide. The conspiracy theorists announced that Starr was covering for Clinton.

    The Washington Post noted there were “five official investigations into Foster’s death, conducted by professional investigators, forensic experts, psychologists, doctors and independent prosecutors with unlimited resources” and they confirmed there was “nothing fishy or mysterious about Foster’s tragic suicide.” 

    So of course Trump resurrects it for the 2016 campaign. Because that’s what a talk radio candidate for president does.

  • NY Times Highlights How Trump’s “Whole Frame Of Reference” Is Right-Wing Media Conspiracy Theories

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin explained that because presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s “‘whole frame of reference’” for his campaign strategy has been conservative media outlets and discredited conspiracy theories, he’s “obliterated” the line separating elected officials and “conservative mischief makers.”

    Trump has long had a symbiotic relationship with conservative media. Fox News and other right-wing news outlets have built up his campaign and repeatedly defended his controversial policies and rhetoric while Trump has echoed their talking points and peddled their conspiracy theories -- most recently including the claim the Clintons were involved with the death of aide Vince Foster. Trump regularly surrounds himself with and lauds known conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, an infamous 9/11 truther, and Roger Stone, a notorious dirty trickster who alleges the Clintons are murderers.Trump has also courted and pushed the claims of discredited author and conspiracy theorist Ed Klein, whose conspiracies on the Clintons have been called “fan faction” and “smut.”

    In a May 25 piece, Martin noted that Trump has obliterated “the line separating the conservative mischief makers and the party’s more buttoned-up cadre of elected officials and aides.”Martin also quoted Republican strategists explaining that Trump’s “whole frame of reference is daytime Fox News and [Alex Jones’] Infowars.” From the May 25 New York Times piece:

    Ever since talk radio, cable news and the Internet emerged in the 1990s as potent political forces on the right, Republicans have used those media to attack their opponents through a now-familiar two-step.

    Political operatives would secretly place damaging information with friendly outlets like The Drudge Report and Fox News and with radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh — and then they would work to get the same information absorbed into the mainstream media.

    Candidates themselves would avoid being seen slinging mud, if possible, so as to avoid coming across as undignified or desperate.

    Yet by personally broaching topics like Bill Clinton’s marital indiscretions and the conspiracy theories surrounding the suicide of Vincent W. Foster Jr., a Clinton White House aide, Donald J. Trump is again defying the norms of presidential politics and fashioning his own outrageous style — one that has little use for a middleman, let alone usual ideas about dignity.

    “They’ve reverse-engineered the way it has always worked because they now have a candidate willing to say it himself,” said Danny Diaz, who was a top aide in Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, speaking with a measure of wonder about the spectacle of the party’s presumptive nominee discussing Mr. Clinton’s sexual escapades.

    With Mr. Trump as the Republican standard-bearer, the line separating the conservative mischief makers and the party’s more buttoned-up cadre of elected officials and aides has been obliterated. Fusing what had been two separate but symbiotic forces, Mr. Trump has begun a real-life political science experiment: What happens when a major party’s nominee is more provocateur than politician?

    […]

    Roger J. Stone Jr., the political operative who is Mr. Trump’s longtime confidant and an unapologetic stirrer of strife, called Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney “losers” for their more restrained approaches.

    But that is precisely what has many Republicans, and some Democrats, nervous.

    “He’s never been involved in policy making or party building or the normal things a candidate would do,” said Jon Seaton, a Republican strategist. “His whole frame of reference is daytime Fox News and Infowars,” a website run by the conservative commentator Alex Jones.

    Mark Salter, Mr. McCain’s former chief of staff, said Mr. Trump was making common cause with “the lunatic fringe,” citing his willingness to appear on the radio show of Mr. Jones, who has claimed that Michelle Obama is a man.

  • CNN Criticizes Clinton Wealth While Ignoring Trump’s Shady Financial History

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    A segment on CNN’s OutFront criticized Hillary Clinton, claiming that she “avoids drawing attention to the vast wealth she and her husband have accumulated,” while ignoring the controversial business practices and wealth accumulated by presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. Ironically, the CNN segment collected their information from tax returns released by the Clinton campaign, but failed to note Trump’s reluctance to release his own tax returns after repeatedly saying he would do so.

    CNN national correspondent Sunlen Serfaty highlighted Clinton’s “posh properties” and “luxurious vacations” after Bill Clinton left the White House. And while Serfaty admitted that the Clintons were millions in debt following Bill’s presidency, she argued that “the speaking circuit” allowed the Clintons to “cash in on their political fame.”

    The segment mirrors attacks lobbed at Hillary Clinton during her 2014 book tour, where media outlets painted Clinton as “out of touch with average Americans,” despite polls finding that most Americans believe Clinton understands the problems of everyday Americans.

    Despite the segment’s focus on the financial status of the Democratic frontrunner, Donald Trump’s lavish lifestyle and financials were completely ignored. Trump has failed to release his previous tax returns, claiming he will only release them after IRS audit is complete. But in 2012, Donald Trump criticized Mitt Romney’s reluctance to release his tax returns that “It is disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse to release tax returns to the voters, especially one who has not been subject to public scrutiny in either military or public service.” This came after Trump had promised in February that he would release his taxes “over the next three, four months.”

    Furthermore, while media has shown a fascination with Clinton’s financial history, Trump’s reportedly shady dealings have received relatively little attention. Trump is also currently facing a fraud lawsuit alleging that he scammed students out of $40 million, has received millions in tax deductions by donating land that he valued between 13 and 50 times what he paid for it, and has been accused of running a nutritional supplement scam that he billed as a “recession-proof” venture that bilked people out of thousands of dollars. Trump also took advantage of a government program meant to help small businesses hurt by 9/11, a move that netted him $150,000. None of this was mentioned in CNN’s Segment.

  • STUDY: Sunday Shows Less Likely Than Weekday Competitors To Discuss Poverty

    Fox News Talks A Lot About Inequality And Poverty, But Promotes Policies That Would Make The Problems Worse

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    In the first quarter of 2016, prime-time and evening weekday news programs on the largest cable and broadcast outlets mentioned poverty during roughly 55 percent of their discussions of economic inequality in the United States. During the same time period, Sunday political talk shows mentioned poverty in only 33 percent of discussions of economic inequality.

  • Journalists Should Stop Validating Trump Ally And Conspiracy Theorist Roger Stone

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Journalists have regularly validated top Donald Trump ally and infamous conspiracy theorist Roger Stone in their reporting by uncritically quoting Stone without acknowledging his history of dirty tricks, racism, sexism, and violent rhetoric.

    Political reporters turn to candidates’ campaign staff and other political allies in order to provide insight into campaign strategy. Journalists have used Stone as a source for this insight with regard to the Trump campaign, often referring to him as merely a Trump “associate” or “ally.”

    But Stone is not a typical political adviser, and when the press treats him as one they miss out on a key election story: the extremism of Trump’s supporters. Stone’s decades-long history of dirty tricks includes playing a role in Watergate that later caused him to be fired from a job in the Senate. He has a record of racist and misogynistic rhetoric that caused MSNBC and CNN to ban him from their networks. Stone also regularly calls for public figures to be executed.

    Stone’s history of extremism is particularly relevant for readers when he is quoted discussing the Clintons. Stone has alleged that the Clintons are “plausibly responsible” for the deaths of roughly 40 people, including John F. Kennedy Jr. He has also claimed that Bill Clinton is not Chelsea Clinton’s real father. In 2008, he ran an anti-Hillary Clinton group that went by the acronym “C.U.N.T.”

    Recent articles that have quoted Stone without providing readers with any context regarding his history include:

    • A May 16 BuzzFeed article that quoted “longtime political ally and former campaign adviser to Donald Trump” acknowledging that Trump “posed as his own publicist.”
    • A May 24 Fox News segment discussed comments from “Trump confidant Roger Stone” about whether the candidate had given money to Kathleen Willey.
    • A May 23 Washington Post article quoted “Trump confidant” Stone on the candidate’s strategy for attacking the Clintons.
    • A May 17 USA Today article cited “Trump adviser” Stone on the candidate’s position on Wall Street.

    The media’s validation of Stone closely echoes the mainstreaming of Trump’s extremism. On CNN, Huffington Post Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington called out the media for just that, noting that “by not challenging” Trump’s “extreme statements,” media “are allowing them to become part of the conversation, to become part of the mainstream; we’re getting used to these absurdities.” Journalists should keep that in mind when covering Stone, too.

  • Stone Backtracks On Claim That Trump Paid Willey, Raises New Questions

    Roger Stone Tells Alex Jones That He "Was Told" Trump Paid Willey, Does Not Say Who Told Him

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    Stone

    Roger Stone is now backing away from his claim that Donald Trump gave Kathleen Willey money so she could attack the Clintons. While he said in February that Trump had donated to a fund to help Willey pay off her mortgage, Stone today claimed that “at one time I was told that Donald Trump made an online contribution to the fund” set up to help Willey, but “in retrospect he did not.”

    Stone also told Jones today that, “I, along with others did set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to try to pay off her mortgage.” Despite his apparent role in initially setting up the account, Stone did not explain who originally told him about the alleged donation or how he came to the conclusion that Trump had not donated.

    Yesterday, the Trump campaign released a web video highlighting Willey’s allegation that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her in 1993. (Willey’s claim was later investigated by the Office of the Independent Counsel.)

    As Media Matters reported, during a February interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Stone assured Jones that Trump had contributed money to help pay off Willey’s mortgage “so she can hit the road and start speaking out on Hillary.” While soliciting donations to Willey’s mortgage fund from Jones’ audience, Stone claimed at the time, “We have raised a substantial amount of money. Trump is himself a contributor -- I’m not ready to disclose what he has given.”

    Asked by Fox News about Stone’s comments, the Trump campaign said there was “no truth” to the claim. Stone also responded by tweeting, “A bald face Lie- @realDonaldTrump has not paid @kathleenwilley mortgage.”

    Stone is a longtime associate of Trump who says that he speaks regularly with the candidate, including a phone call this morning to congratulate him on the Willey web video.

    He has for decades been involved in conservative politics, orchestrating political dirty tricks and spouting racist, sexist, violent rhetoric while publishing numerous conspiracy theories about the Clintons.

  • Wash. Post Report Fails To Debunk Unfounded Voter ID Fraud Claims 

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    While reporting on voter ID laws, The Washington Post correctly noted that they mostly affect minorities, senior citizens, and low-income voters, but the paper also gave a platform to the conservative myth that these laws prevent voter ID fraud, without noting there is virtually no factual evidence to support claims of widespread in-person voter impersonation.