Elections

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  • Of Course The Press Played A Major Role In Trump’s Victory 

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. … The money’s rolling in and this is fun.” -- CBS CEO Les Moonves discussing Donald Trump, February 2016. 

    While reporters and pundits sift through their harassing and sometimes anti-Semitic letters and emails from Trump supporters -- and contemplate what the future holds if radio show host Laura Ingraham becomes the next White House press secretary -- few seem to be in the mood to reflect on their just-concluded campaign effort. And even fewer scribes seem willing to accept that the media made serious missteps in their election coverage -- and that those mistakes helped elect Donald Trump president.

    Any implications drawn from the media’s broken performance in 2016, a year when Trump’s former campaign manager was hired by CNN while still cashing Trump campaign paychecks, have been largely waved off. Much of the media's message today is that the press simply played no significant role in tipping the election to Trump.

    Detailing “The Democratic Coalition’s Epic Fail,” The New York Times’ Thomas Edsall cataloged what he saw as the many shortcomings of the Hillary Clinton campaign. What was notably absent from the list of hurdles that Clinton and Democrats failed to clear? The press. It’s not even worth discussing, apparently.

    There seems to be little interest in acknowledging that the press virtually extinguished policy and issue coverage this campaign cycle. That journalists were bullied by Trump yet often held him to a lower, softer standard than Clinton (see Clinton Foundation vs. Trump Foundation coverage). That the press somehow managed to help normalize a bigoted Republican nominee who openly embraces white nationalism, while showering him with nonstop attention. Or that the press’s relentlessly caustic Clinton coverage became a hallmark of the campaign.  

    Immediately following the election, New York Times Editor Dean Baquet and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. assured readers that “We believe we reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign.” So no, journalists don’t seem interested in self-examination, and they certainly don’t seem open to admitting that their occasionally colossal blunders helped tip the scales in Trump’s favor.

    In fact, quite the contrary. “The press succeeded in exposing Trump for what he was. Voters just decided they didn’t care,” Politico announced.

    Question: How well did the press succeed in getting Trump to release his tax returns? In getting him to release relevant health information about himself? In getting him to hold a press conference during the final months of the campaign?

    Answer: The press failed, categorically, in all those routine pursuits. But many journalists today remain certain everything was fine in 2016.

    From CNN reporter Maeve Reston: 

    Reston claims it’s just “lazy” for people to blame the press in the wake of Trump’s victory, but there is solid data to back up a lot of complaints about lopsided election coverage.  

    As Media Matters pointed out, in the week after FBI Director James Comey announced that the bureau would be assessing newly discovered emails to find out if they were relevant to its investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server, five of the country’s top newspaper published a total of 100 (100!) stories about or mentioning the emails, 46 of them on the front page. Additionally, the three network evening newscasts devoted a total of 25 minutes to the FBI email story during two crucial weeks late in the campaign, compared to just three minutes of policy coverage.  

    Meanwhile, NBC’s Katy Tur also seemed to dismiss post-campaign press criticism: 

    Was the press, in fact, “hostile” to the Clinton campaign? Is Podesta’s point a legitimate one? The answer to that question actually isn’t even in doubt. Study after study demonstrated that Clinton was the recipient of overwhelmingly negative press coverage.  

    On Twitter, Patrick LaForge, senior editor at The New York Times, suggested it was the FBI that made the Clinton emails such a big issue late in the campaign, and that the paper simply followed the bureau’s lead. But it was Times newsroom bosses, not the FBI director, who decided to run seven front-page email stories in three days late last month while millions of Americans were casting early ballots. 

    It was Times editors who decided to publish 22 articles mentioning Clinton’s email server in the week after the FBI announcement -- over-the-top coverage that at times looked like man-landing-on-the-moon reporting. Just like it was cable news producers who cultivated a manic, hothouse environment in which the term “email” or “emails” was mentioned thousands of times on air in the days following the FBI’s email announcement.

    All of this for a vague statement regarding, at the time, unseen emails that may or may not prove significant to any investigation. (They ended up not being significant.)

    What are some of the consequences of the media’s failed campaign coverage? And specifically, its failure to hold Trump to the same transparency and disclosure standard as Clinton?

    From The Guardian, November 12 (emphasis added):

    When President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House next year he will bring with him potential conflicts of interest across all areas of government that are unprecedented in American history.

    Trump, who manages a sprawling, international network of businesses, has thus far refused to put his businesses into a blind trust the way his predecessors in the nation’s highest office have traditionally done. Instead he has said his businesses will be run by his own adult children.

    The prospect of the president of the United States becoming deeply entangled in business conflicts while trying to lead the world’s most powerful nation is stunning.

    But here’s the thing: Journalists knew that many, many months ago. They all knew that if Trump won the presidency he would be wallowing in unprecedented conflicts of interest and that Americans likely wouldn’t be able to tell where Trump’s foreign policy priorities ended and his business goals began.

    The looming conflicts were an open secret. So why did that unprecedented threat to transparency generate so little political press attention before the election?

    Short answer: Media were too busy hyperventilating about Clinton’s emails. And that’s when they weren’t utterly devoted to undercutting the landmark Clinton charity by hyping supposed conflicts of interest.

    Remember when editorial boards lectured Clinton about the need to banish the family’s charity in order to placate the always lurking optics police?

    • “Even if they’ve done nothing illegal, the foundation will always look too much like a conflict of interest for comfort.” (The Boston Globe)
    • “[T]he only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs.” (USA Today)
    • “Impressions such as these are corrosive to national institutions.” (The Washington Post)

    By contrast, the press basically gave Trump a pass regarding the land mine of concrete, for-profit conflicts he’d have as president.

    Looking back, large, ranging portions of the 2016 campaign coverage were wildly irresponsible. It’s equally negligent now for journalists to pretend they played no role in Trump’s victory.

  • Experts Fear Trump Policies May Cause Economic Slowdown

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    After Donald Trump's election, media and experts are predicting the president-elect’s stated policies will harm the economy if implemented in 2017 and beyond. According to expert analyses, working-class Americans will face the greatest economic disruptions as a result of Trump’s policies.

  • White Nationalists Love Trump’s Steve Bannon Hiring: “With Trump, Every Day Is Christmas”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    White nationalists are thrilled about President-elect Donald Trump’s White House appointment of Steve Bannon, who ran the white nationalist “alt-right” website Breitbart News. Racist and anti-Semitic writers are hailing Bannon’s appointment as “pure awesomeness” and “Christmas” and are praising Bannon for holding similar views to their own.

    Breitbart News has repeatedly pushed anti-Semitism and racism under Bannon’s leadership. CNN’s Jake Tapper noted that “Bannon's ex-wife swore in court in 2007 that he ‘didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews...He said he doesn’t like Jews...’”

    The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a statement saying that it “strongly opposes” Bannon’s appointment as chief strategist and senior counselor, noting that Bannon presided over the “premier website of the 'alt-right' — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.”

    Bannon and Trump’s allies within the white nationalist community -- which includes neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and proud white supremacists -- are hailing Bannon’s appointment:

    Neo-Nazi Website Infostormer: “Pure Awesomeness.” Infostormer is a neo-Nazi website that idolizes Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump. It is virulently anti-Semitic and features the prominent tag line, “Destroying Jewish Tyranny.” Writer “Marcus Cicero” celebrated Bannon’s hiring by writing that it’s “Pure awesomeness” and Bannon “is far closer to our views than the average Republican you will see on the tubes.”

    Neo-Nazi Website Daily Stormer: Trump Has Surrounded Himself With “The Right People.” The Daily Stormer is a neo-Nazi website that idolizes Hitler and Donald Trump. The website leads online attacks and troll campaigns against Jewish journalists. Editor Andrew Anglin praised Trump’s hiring of Bannon and said Trump has “surrounded himself with the right people this entire election, so there’s no reason to believe he’ll stop doing that now.” Anglin also attacked the “kike media” for “portraying Trump as a cuck who is going back on everything.”

    White Nationalist Leader Richard Spencer: "’Strategist’ Is The Best Possible Position For Steve Bannon.” Richard Spencer is a white nationalist who leads the “think tank” National Policy Institute. The Associated Press reported that Spencer has “matter-of-factly called for removing African-Americans, Hispanics and Jews from the United States.” Spencer praised Trump’s Bannon appointment on his Twitter account:

    White Nationalist Writer Hunter Wallace Reacts To Appointment: Trump "Doesn't Give A Shit" What The ADL Thinks. Hunter Wallace (real name Brad Griffin) is an anti-Semitic writer who is also a board member for the white supremacist hate group Council of Conservative Citizens. He responded to Bannon’s hiring with elation, writing that Bannon’s vision for the country “is our dream too” and it shows that Trump “doesn’t give a shit what the [Southern Poverty Law Center] and ADL thinks”:

    Sounds good to me:

    “PARIS—Never mind that the French cable television report on Stephen Bannon made him look like one of the winos living on grates in Paris, or that it compared Bannon, Donald Trump’s grizzled éminence grise and newly-named White House chief strategist, to Adolf Hitler’s propaganda chief Josef Goebbels.

    And never mind the program’s citations of rampant sexism on Bannon’s pseudo-news service, Breitbart. All he had to do in that clip was say he’d like to expand Breitbart’s operations to France and allude to Marion Maréchal-Le Pen as “the new rising star” on the French version of the alt-right and she started gushing on Twitter in English:…

    Breitbart, which currently runs an office in London, certainly has plans to expand in France and Germany with new bureaus to cultivate and promote the populist-nationalist lines there.

    “He has long wanted to work with all of those parties, but that was only in promoting them with Breitbart,” a source close to Bannon told The Daily Beast. “Now he has the power of the White House to do it.” …”

    This is our dream too … spreading the national populist revolution to Europe, overthrowing the liberal world order, turning Trump’s America into our equivalent of the Soviet Union. It’s a stunning turn events. I still can’t believe it is happening.

    […]

    I can’t believe this is happening either. President Trump doesn’t give a shit what the SPLC and ADL thinks. I’m feeling whiplash in a good way.

    White Nationalist Radio Host James Edwards: “With Trump, Every Day Is Christmas.” James Edwards is the host of the “pro-white” radio show The Political Cesspool. He interviewed several Trump surrogates during the campaign, including Donald Trump Jr., and received press credentials to a Trump rally. He celebrated the Bannon news on Twitter:

    Anti-Immigrant Site VDare Celebrates Bannon Hiring. VDare is a white nationalist site that attacks immigrants. The site responded to the Bannon hiring by writing pro-Bannon tweets:

    UPDATE: David Duke praised Bannon’s hiring on his radio show, stating that “Bannon has really been right on about a lot of issues facing European-Americans.” CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Chris Massie also​ talked to leading white nationalists and found that “they view Bannon as an advocate in the White House for policies they favor.”

  • Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones Says President-Elect Trump Called To "Thank" His Audience

    Jones: Trump Says He Will “Be On In The Next Few Weeks”

    Blog ››› ››› BEN DIMIERO

    Conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones, who believes the government was involved in the 9/11 attacks, numerous school shootings, and the Oklahoma City bombing, says President-elect Donald Trump personally called him to "thank" Jones' audience for its support during the campaign. According to Jones, Trump said he plans to appear on Jones’ radio show “in the next few weeks.”

    Jones is perhaps the country’s most prominent conspiracy theorist, and his support for and collaboration with the Trump campaign repeatedly made headlines during the election. Trump appeared on Jones’ show in December 2015 and praised his “amazing” reputation, promising Jones and his audience, “I will not let you down.” Throughout the campaign, Trump routinely echoed Jones’ talking points and conspiracies, causing Jones to marvel in August, “It is surreal to talk about issues here on air and then word-for-word hear Trump say it two days later. It is amazing.” 

    In a November 11 video, Jones boasted that the newly elected Trump “gave me a call, and I told him, ‘Mr. President-elect, you’re too busy, we don’t need to talk.’ But we still spent over five minutes -- he said, 'Listen, Alex, I just talked to the kings and queens of the world -- world leaders, you name it.' But he said, 'It doesn’t matter, I wanted to talk to you to thank your audience, and I’ll be on in the next few weeks to thank them.'” Jones added that Trump indicated it was not a “private call” and told him, “I want to thank your viewers, thank your listeners for standing up for this republic. We know what you did early on and throughout this campaign to stand up for what’s right.”

    Later in the video, Jones again drove home the point that Trump had taken “time out from talking to world leaders. He’s not calling other media, he’s not meeting with other media, he’s not talking to the media – he wanted to directly talk to you and thank you.”

    Trump is right that Jones and his audience were crucial boosters of his presidential campaign, starting in the primary. Jones previously said he convinced Trump to adopt the conspiracy that Democrats were going to “rig” or “steal” the election for Clinton.

    This year alone, Jones also: pushed the theory that Clinton is a “demon-possessed” “devil worshiper”; claimed the Clintons had murdered several people; sold the “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts that became a staple of Trump rallies; argued that Billy Bush was a CIA operative who “set up” Trump’s comments boasting about committing sexual assault; and claimed that President Obama’s real father is the communist Frank Marshall Davis and his mother was a “sex operative” for the CIA.

    UPDATE: 

    During a Friday appearance on Jones’ show, Trump ally and adviser Roger Stone, who was a fixture on Jones’ program throughout the election, said he had spoken to Trump “at some length on a broad variety of topics,” including Trump’s appreciation for Jones and his audience. According to Stone, Trump “knows that you are the centerpiece of the resistance. He knows that he has gotten better treatment here than from anyone in the mainstream media, and he is very grateful and very thankful for your support and the support of your audience.”

  • 60 Minutes Is Already Helping Normalize Trump’s Presidency

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    60 Minutes gave a master class in normalizing a dangerous demagogue -- inviting President-elect  Donald Trump to reintroduce himself as a reasonable politician while glossing over the most dangerous features and promises of his recent campaign, including his reliance on the chief of the white nationalist “alt-right” website Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon, who has just been named White House senior counselor.

    During the November 13 edition of CBS’s 60 Minutes, Donald Trump gave correspondent Lesley Stahl his first extensive interview since winning the presidential election. The interview was a disturbing start for journalism in a Trump presidency -- asking softball questions, fixating on Trump’s personal feelings about becoming president, and repeatedly minimizing Trump’s most dangerous promises as mere campaign talk.

    Do You Mean What You Said?

    Throughout the interview, Stahl repeatedly invited Trump to distance himself from the extreme positions he took during the campaign. Stahl introduced the interview by telling viewers that 60 Minutes had discovered many of Trump’s signature campaign promises were, in fact, “not meant to be taken literally, but as opening bids for negotiation.” (A sentiment Trump himself did not express during the taped interview.)

    That framing continued throughout the interview. “Are people going to be surprised about how you conduct yourself as president?,” Stahl asked, suggesting that the Trump Americans had come to know on the campaign trail might have been an act. Asking about Trump’s campaign rhetoric, Stahl wondered if the president-elect would “have that same rhetoric you had on the stump or are you going to rein it in?”

    The bulk of Stahl’s policy questions focused on whether Trump was going to follow through on a given campaign position or “change it in any way.”

    That approach -- essentially asking Trump ‘did you really mean what you said?’ rather than holding him accountable for the platform he ran on -- allowed Trump to reintroduce himself as a reasonable politician, distance himself from positions like putting his political opponent in prison or reversing marriage equality, and avoid having to answer substantive questions about how he planned to implement proposals like building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border or repealing and replacing Obamacare.

    Fixating On The Personal

    Stahl also focused on Trump’s personal reaction to being elected president, asking if he was surprised by his victory, if he realized the enormity of his victory, if he was “intimidated” or “scared” by the burden of the presidency, if it was awkward meeting with President Obama, etc. Asking about Trump’s first meeting with the president, Stahl wondered “You looked pretty sober sitting there in the Oval Office. Did something wash over you?”

    In a 60 Minutes Overtime segment, Stahl explained that she believed Trump had become “much more subdued, much more serious” in the days since winning the presidency:

    “I really did have the feeling that the sense of gravity, and how big the problems are — it was sinking in, washing over him,” she says. “I think he wanted the public to know that he understood that he had to shift gears and pay attention to the responsibilities now.”

    Again, Stahl’s framing assumes that the Trump who will soon be leading the country is not going to be the same Trump who ran one of the most divisive, undisciplined, and dangerous presidential campaigns in modern American history.

    And those questions about Trump’s personal feelings came at the expense of more serious questions about what he actually plans to do as president, especially in light of his shameful positions as a candidate: his pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country or engage in war crimes, for example. They also came at the expense of questions about ongoing controversies, lawsuits, and conflicts of interest surrounding the president-elect, including  charges of fraud over Trump University, his promise to sue the many women who accused him of sexual harassment and assault, the anti-semitic positions of his campaign and reports of the same surrounding his new senior counselor, and Trump’s ties to white nationalists at home and Russian interests abroad.

    Is this how major news networks will spend the next four years normalizing Trump’s extremism? Treat it like an act, assume he doesn’t mean what he says, fixate on the sensationalism of his ascendancy, and play nice in order to maintain access? The same thing happened during the campaign, when journalists spent months predicting a Trump “pivot” that never came.

    It is the responsibility of news networks to describe the world as it is, not as they hope it turns out. 60 Minutes’ apparent blind faith or unwillingness to take Trump’s campaign promises seriously -- to acknowledge that the most powerful office in the country is about to be occupied by someone who demonstrates no regard for basic democratic norms -- highlights the frightening possibility that many news networks simply aren’t prepared to  speak truth to power during a Trump presidency.

  • CNN’s Final Humiliation: Corey Lewandowski Quits To Work For Trump

    The Network Should Have Fired Him Months Ago

    Blog ››› ››› BEN DIMIERO

    Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager for President-elect Donald Trump turned professional Trump propagandist for CNN, has resigned from the network amid reports that he is seeking a job in the new administration. His resignation just days after Trump’s win underlines the farcical nature of his employment as a “political commentator” for CNN during the election. And the nature of his exit -- proactively resigning to potentially go back to officially working for Trump rather than being fired by CNN for obvious ethical reasons -- should humiliate the network.

    CNN hired Lewandowski shortly after he was fired by the campaign in June. His hiring was immediately and widely criticized, both due to his history of open hostility toward -- and even physical altercations with -- the press, and the fact that he was likely prevented from criticizing Trump due to a non-disparagement agreement. The New York Times reported Friday that Lewandowski “has been frequently spotted this week at Trump Tower in Manhattan, chatting with senior aides and attending meetings,” and that he is seeking a senior adviser role in the administration and is in consideration for a leadership role with the Republican National Committee.

    CNN president Jeff Zucker repeatedly defended Lewandowski’s hiring, even as it became clear that he was still drawing large “severance” checks from the campaign, advising Trump on strategy, helping to prep him for the debates, and flying on the candidate’s plane while working for the network.

    Zucker’s defense for hiring Lewandowski is that he provided needed pro-Trump balance to CNN’s airwaves while supposedly being able to offer expert information from someone who had been inside the campaign apparatus. But CNN’s airwaves were already filled with Trump apologists, and Lewandowski’s reported non-disclosure agreement essentially prevented him from sharing any unique insight into the campaign. So what CNN viewers got instead was a lot of dishonest shilling on Trump’s behalf -- and given the nature of Trump’s campaign, there was no shortage of scandals for Lewandowski to spin to CNN’s audience.

    When video of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women emerged in October, Lewandowski downplayed the seriousness of the comments by telling CNN viewers that “we’re not electing a Sunday School teacher” and stressing Trump’s leadership ability. (In a separate appearance a few days later, Lewandowski announced that “nobody cares” about Trump’s comments before pivoting to talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails.)

    When women came forward alleging that Trump had assaulted them, Lewandowski cast doubt on the veracity of the claims, suggesting it was suspicious that they had waited until so close to the election to come forward.

    When The New York Times published tax documents suggesting Trump had been able to avoid paying federal income tax for years, Lewandowski tried to obscure the nature of the report by accusing the Times of a “felony” for publishing its article and encouraging the candidate to sue the paper “into oblivion.”

    When a fellow panelist questioned Trump's years-long racist crusade questioning President Obama’s birthplace, Lewandowski questioned (to the horror of dozens of journalists) why Obama hadn’t released his college records, asking, “Did he get in as a U.S. citizen, or was he brought into Harvard University as a citizen who wasn't from this country?”

    There are plenty of other lowlights from Lewandowski's CNN tenure, but you get the idea.

    Lewandowski’s resignation essentially confirms what was already an open secret: he never really stopped working for Trump -- his role just changed. Media Matters had for months been calling for CNN to cut ties with Lewandowski over ethical concerns, but now that he’s resigned, CNN can’t even salvage a small bit of journalistic responsibility over the Lewandowski debacle.

    In effect, CNN just paid Trump’s close ally for five months to spin on Trump’s behalf while auditioning for a job in the Trump administration. The network’s journalists should be embarrassed that their executives had so little regard for CNN’s credibility.