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  • First Amendment Watch: December 2016

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks President-elect Donald Trump made against the media -- and instances in which he demonstrated disregard for the press -- during the month of December 2016.

  • What Journalists Can Do When The President Is A Liar

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    When Donald Trump is inaugurated later this month, the presidency will officially be held by an inveterate liar. And the way the press has covered Trump in the two months since his November election victory suggests that many journalists need to adjust their approach to address that reality before Trump takes office.

    On New Year’s Eve, Trump cast doubt on the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian government-backed hackers intervened in the presidential election, suggesting that he would release evidence to the contrary early this week.

    “I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove,” Trump told the press pool outside his Florida golf club. “So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.” Asked what precisely he knew that others didn’t, Trump responded, “You’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.”

    Trump’s comments promptly rocketed through the news cycle, with outlets reprinting his claims without skepticism or context. In a representative example, The New York Timesreport was headlined “Trump Promises a Revelation on Hacking.” But by Monday morning, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer was walking back the suggestion that Trump would release any new information this week.  

    The president-elect's claim to have new information about Russian hacking was certainly startling. But why did journalists initially treat it as news and assume it must be true?

    Journalists typically treat presidential statements as both newsworthy and generally trustworthy until proven otherwise. Trump is hardly the first president to dissimulate. But unlike his predecessors, Trump does not lie strategically or rarely. He lies habitually, on matters great and small. By following their typical practice and reporting the president-elect’s comments as both factual and significant, reporters are doing a disservice to their audience, which is left with the impression that what Trump has said is both true and substantive.

    Sometimes, Trump is simply misstating the facts, as he did in touting a jobs “deal” with Carrier that won’t actually save the jobs he promised and one with Sprint that he had nothing to do with. Sometimes, he is promoting false conspiracy theories, as he did when he claimed that “millions of people” illegally voted in the election. Sometimes, he continues repeating the same claims after they have been proved false -- as he did with regard to President Obama’s birth certificate -- making it clear that he is lying deliberately. And when pressed by the media to explain dubious claims, he often promises explosive new information that never materializes in attempts to delay difficult confrontations, as he has done with his refusal to release his tax returns after originally saying he would, his response to questions about his business conflicts, and his comments about hacking.

    Trump is exploiting a vulnerability in journalism. The pace of reporting has accelerated to the point where it is standard practice for journalists to write up a prominent politician’s comments immediately, and assess what those comments mean in later pieces. That doesn’t work with Trump.

    When Trump offers a statement, the press writes up his comments with headlines and stories favorable to the president-elect only to, almost inevitably, discover after additional reporting that Trump’s initial claims were false. Readers and viewers are misled by the initial coverage and are left unable to accurately judge the policy implications of Trump’s remarks. Millions of Americans end up supporting Trump’s jobs “deals” following misleading early reports, or believing his lies about illegal voters.

    Or Trump will respond to a burgeoning controversy by promising to release documents or give press conferences that support his positions. Reporters will treat that declaration of forthcoming news as itself newsworthy, but the promise is ultimately unfulfilled. Trump succeeds in muddying the waters and shifting the news cycle.

    Journalists are aware that Trump’s statements are less trustworthy than those of other politicians. Major news outlets and fact-checkers that reviewed Trump’s campaign statements have stated in the strongest terms that Trump spews falsehoods at an unprecedented rate for American politics.

    The New York Times even took the unusual step of declaring in a front-page headline that Trump’s statements about President Obama’s birth certificate were a “lie.” Times Editor-in-Chief Dean Baquet explained that Trump’s behavior had required the paper to change its approach and accurately describe Trump’s “demonstrably false” statements as lies.

    He was right. But Trump’s behavior has not changed since his election, so journalists cannot allow themselves to return to their usual approach to presidential coverage; rather, they must develop new methods to avoid privileging his lies.

    Since Trump frequently lies, journalists should be extremely wary of headlines and social media posts that simply restate his comments. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent suggests two smart rules of thumb: “If the headline does not convey the fact that Trump’s claim is in question or open to doubt, based on the known facts, then it is insufficiently informative,” and, “If the known facts show that his claims are false or outright lies, the headline should clearly indicate that, too.”

    Given the need to vet Trump’s comments, Poynter’s Kelly McBride urges reporters to slow down and prioritize providing context for his statements over publishing Trump’s remarks quickly. That seems especially worthwhile when Trump is promising to provide information about a controversy some time in the future.

    Journalists must also be willing to call Trump’s statements lies where appropriate. If they don’t, as Sargent warns, “we risk enabling Trump’s apparent efforts to obliterate the possibility of agreement on shared reality.”

    Moreover, in cases where Trump is clearly lying, reporters should not privilege the lie by adopting the false claim as the basis of their report and framing it as a question of whether his statement was accurate. That approach helps Trump spread the false claim and leaves readers and viewers with the takeaway that there is a controversy around his comments. They should instead frame their stories -- including their headlines -- around the reality that the president-elect is not telling the truth, explaining that this latest claim is part of a pattern. That method punishes the falsehood and provides the best chance of leaving the audience with the truth.

    Some journalists will oppose the need for such shifts in approach because they are worried about the optics of seeming overly critical of the president.

    Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker championed this position in a Sunday appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. Asked if his paper would be willing to refer to some inaccurate Trump statements as lies, Baker said it would not use that word because “I think you run the risk that you look like you are, like you’re not being objective.”

    As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer noted, this approach suggests that Baker believes it is not “objectivity that matters, but the *appearance* of objectivity.” Dan Rather wrote of the “deeply disturbing” comments: “It is not the proper role of journalists to meet lies -- especially from someone of Mr. Trump’s stature and power -- by hiding behind semantics and euphemisms. Our role is to call it as we see it, based on solid reporting. When something is, in fact, a demonstrable lie, it is our responsibility to say so.”

    Baker isn’t alone. There is an ongoing debate in newsrooms about whether to accurately call Trump a liar -- even at the Times, which did so back in September. At the time, public editor Liz Spayd agreed that the paper was justified in using such language to refer to Trump’s birther lies, but warned that “The Times should use this term rarely” because “its power in political warfare has so freighted the word that its mere appearance on news pages, however factually accurate, feels partisan.” Again, that’s an argument that optics outweigh accurate information.

    Spayd appears to have won the argument. While the paper’s editorial board and columnists still regularly refer to Trump as a liar and call his statements lies, the Times’ news section has done so only twice since Spayd’s piece came out -- both times in articles that referenced Trump’s birther lies, which were published the same week.

    Trump didn’t stop lying in September. But if the press doesn’t incorporate the lessons of the campaign and refuses to treat his statements with skepticism and call them out as lies when appropriate, its audience will pay the price.

  • Media Are Watching The Trump Transition From The Sidelines

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    The Fourth Estate is an institution whose power and influence, while not officially recognized, provide a critical role in the checks and balances of political power. With Washington, D.C., entirely under Republican control, the media stands as the best available check against a White House that has signaled its resolve to gaslight its way through the next four years. But if political journalists’ post-election inertia is a harbinger of what role the press will play during a Trump administration, then the Fourth Estate is seemingly shaping up to roll over for the Trump White House.

    In the weeks since Election Day, political journalism has largely fallen short both in style and substance. Journalists watching from the sidelines have been reduced to parroting Trump’s publicly available tweets -- allowing him to drive the news cycle -- and have bungled one of the most important roles the press plays during a transition period: the vetting of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominations and appointments.

    Possibly the most glaring example of the press’s passive Trump coverage has been its coverage of Trump’s tweets. The new era of political journalism is seemingly being played out in the Twittersphere. Faced with a president-elect who is adept at using his Twitter feed to drive news coverage and who has refused to hold a post-election press conference and repeatedly ditched his traveling press pool, reporters have been suckered into relying on his vague, false, or dangerous tweets, frequently reporting his 140-character riffs without context or pushback. The political press is trading in its historical role as antagonistic investigators for the retweet button, letting Trump himself dictate what news is covered (and what isn’t) and how, without any follow-up questions. Trump has essentially reduced political reporters on Twitter to play-by-play commentators who narrate his every tweet.

    When Trump falsely tweeted that “he won the popular vote over Clinton ‘if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,'" reporters "raced to their computers to file stories on Trump's latest outlandish claim, and many of the headlines and tweets that resulted neglected to make clear that he was peddling an erroneous conspiracy theory,” CNN reported

    When Trump vaguely tweeted that he would be leaving his businesses to avoid conflicts of interest, but offered no details of the arrangements, media headlines simply echoed Trump’s tweets, allowing him to drive news coverage with little pushback and no immediate follow-up. Trump ultimately canceled the press conference where he said he would announce these details -- but got the positive news cycle nonetheless. And in fact, American journalists have had to rely on foreign outlets for many of the stories that have emerged since the election about Trump potentially using his new role to further his business interests.

    Likewise, precisely because Trump has starved out the press, his false or misleading tweets about saving jobs at the Indiana-based Carrier facility, keeping a Ford plant from moving to Mexico, threatening Boeing for its contract to update Air Force One, and taking credit for a $2 billion investment from SoftBank have been mindlessly amplified by the press, driving uncritical news coverage on Trump’s terms.

    So far, media outlets have lazily elevated Trump’s Twitter claims with minimal pushback, and often reporters who fact-check a false Trump tweet do so hours, if not days, after Trump’s lie has already spread. Journalists retreating to Twitter for political journalism owe the public aggressive fact-checking not only in accompanying tweets, but also in the print and on-air reports that follow. Anything less, as has happened thus far, amounts to the media failing to do their job.

    Reporting on Trump’s cabinet picks and other top-level appointees has not fared any better. A pattern has emerged in which Trump fills his cabinet with appointees whose personal and professional ideologies are largely antithetical to the agency they could soon be running -- a climate-denier at the Environmental Protection Agency, an anti-worker CEO heading the Labor Department, an Energy Department secretary who has previously suggested shutting down that department, a Putin pal at the helm of the State Department. Tough public vetting is perhaps the most important job the press has during a presidential transition, and yet journalists have stumbled when reporting on Trump’s troubling picks. 

    After Trump announced ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his pick for secretary of state, morning news shows and newspapers noted that prominent figures including James Baker III, Robert M. Gates, and Condoleezza Rice had expressed support for Tillerson, with some mentioning that such support adds credibility to the pick. But those outlets failed to disclose that all three figures have considerable financial ties through their businesses to Tillerson, ExxonMobil, and the oil company’s Russian business ventures.

    Likewise, several media outlets reporting on Trump’s selection of Tillerson have uncritically described Tillerson as accepting of climate change and supportive of a carbon tax. But these reports ignored scientifically inaccurate claims Tillerson has made about climate change, Exxon’s continued financial support of groups that deny climate science, inconsistencies by both Tillerson and Exxon on whether they truly support a carbon tax, and fierce opposition to Tillerson’s nomination from leading environmental groups -- not to mention the fact that Exxon is under investigation in several states for possibly violating state laws by deceiving shareholders and the public about climate change.

    The media’s lackluster vetting efforts didn’t stop with Tillerson. CNN’s Alisyn Camerota whitewashed Trump’s choice for EPA administrator, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, by falsely claiming he “hasn’t denied global warming.” And some of the nation’s most prominent newspapers glossed over the discredited economic arguments peddled by Andy Puzder, Trump’s Labor Department pick, to justify opposition to raising the minimum wage, expanding overtime protections, and extending the scope of the Affordable Care Act.

    The public deserves a tough and thorough vetting of Trump’s cabinet picks, especially given that the Republican-held Senate will presumably confirm most, if not all, of his picks with minimal scrutiny. But if the media is idle during this critical time, the question becomes: At what point will they come off the sidelines?

    The media establishment is perhaps one of the last standing checks on the incoming Trump administration, and that role should be taken seriously. After all, if history is any lesson, an indolent press corps that allows a White House to run roughshod over reporters presents a very real danger to the American public at large.

    As detailed by Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert in Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, “the mainstream media completely lost their bearings during the Bush years and abdicated their Fourth Estate responsibility to report without fear or favor and to ask uncomfortable questions to people in power." Motivated by promises of access and by fear of being painted as “liberal,” political journalists, argued Boehlert, rolled over for the Bush White House time and again, helping to spin, justify, and normalize the administration’s actions regarding the run-up to the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the “Swift Boat” campaign against John Kerry, and Bush’s military record.

    Working for CNN at the time, now-Fox News host Howard Kurtz wrote in March 2013 that “the media's greatest failure in modern times” was that they “aided and abetted the Bush administration's march to war on what turned out to be faulty premises. All too often, skepticism was checked at the door, and the shaky claims of top officials and unnamed sources were trumpeted as fact.”

    The parallels between the Bush White House’ treatment of the press and the signals of how Trump will (continue to) treat the media are striking. In a PBS interview, New Yorker columnist Ken Auletta noted that “the Bush administration [did] not accept that the press has a legitimate public interest role." He said administration officials wanted “to figure out a way to deliver their message” without engaging the press and they worked to justify “having so few press conferences.” He added that because Bush was “angry at the press,” the White House decided “to aggressively go after reporters.”

    Accordingly, Auletta concedes, “the press went through a period of time where their coverage was too soft on Bush and [had] not enough skepticism.”

    Trump seems similarly poised to continue icing out the press, in turn creating dangerous barriers to solid, aggressive reporting and, alternatively, incentives for favorable, pulled-punches coverage. He has yet to hold a post-election press conference, has spent the last month attacking the media, and is toying with the idea of eliminating White House press briefings. These assaults on the media, combined with an ongoing noneffort by the media to cover Trump vigorously, portend great trouble for the media's ability to serve as an institutional check on a Trump White House.

  • Trump's Son-In-Law Reportedly Moving To Sell The Observer After Using It As A Campaign Weapon for Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is reportedly trying to sell The New York Observer, the media outlet which he used during the presidential campaign to give Trump positive coverage throughout the 2016 election.

    Reuters reported that Kushner, who owned The Observer while simultaneously advising Trump during his presidential bid, is hoping to sell the news site “so that he can focus on his budding political career.”

    Although The Observer did not officially endorse Trump during the presidential campaign, the editorial board did endorse him during the primary campaign. The Observer staff was involved in advising and even writing speeches for candidate Trump, while the outlet itself pedaled pro-Trump content. This only confirmed the outlet’s cozy relationship with the Republican candidate, which led one staffer to resign.

    While Kushner’s role in the Trump campaign has raised concerns, this is another signal that Kushner is using his father-in-law’s election for financial gain and to gain political clout. From the December 21 Reuters report: 

    President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is looking to sell his newspaper, The New York Observer, the trade newspaper Women's Wear Daily reported on Wednesday.

    [...]

    Kushner may be selling the Observer to focus on his political career, according to the report. His wife, Ivanka Trump, is the president-elect's eldest daughter. Both he and his wife advised Trump during his successful presidential campaign. 

  • Breitbart Admits Role As Trump Enforcer, Showing Why It Should Be Denied Congressional Press Credentials

    Breitbart Editor Says Republicans Should Fear The Website If They Cross Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In a Politico article detailing how President-elect Donald Trump’s “horde of enforcers” -- Breitbart.com listed prominently among them -- are scaring Republican lawmakers away from criticizing him, a Breitbart editor said Republicans are right to fear the right-wing website, which was previously run by Trump senior counselor Stephen Bannon. This admission from Breitbart that the outlet plans to support Trump, rather than objectively cover his incoming administration, further demonstrates that the website is not editorially independent enough to warrant permanent Capitol Hill press credentials.

    Breitbart applied for permanent Capitol Hill press credentials in November. Media Matters has objected to the request, urging members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery in an open letter to reject the request based on Breitbart’s disqualifying inability to demonstrate editorial independence from the Trump team as required by the committee's rules. Breitbart fails this standard in several ways, as several former members of the committee have acknowledged. In a December 21 Politico report headlined “Trump posse browbeats Hill Republicans,” Breitbart further demonstrates why the site must be disqualified from obtaining a permanent press pass by admitting that it will go after Trump’s Republican critics.

    From the Politico article (emphasis added):

    In early December, Rep. Bill Flores made what seemed like an obvious observation to a roomful of conservatives at a conference in Washington. Some of Donald Trump’s proposals, the Texas Republican cautioned, “are not going to line up very well with our conservative policies," though he quickly added that there was plenty the incoming president and GOP Congress could accomplish together. Little did Flores realize the hell that would soon rain down from Trump's throng of enforcers.

    Breitbart seized on Flores' remarks a few days later, calling them proof that House Republicans planned to “isolate and block President Donald Trump’s populist campaign promises.”

    [...]

    It’s little wonder that Capitol Hill Republicans have papered over their not-insignificant policy differences with Trump, shying away from any statement about the president-elect that might possibly be construed as critical. They’re terrified of arousing the ire of their tempestuous new leader — or being labeled a turncoat by his army of followers.

    It's a novel form of party message discipline that stems from Trump but doesn't necessarily require the president-elect to speak or tweet himself. Plenty of others are willing to do it for him. Since the election, numerous congressional Republicans have refused to publicly weigh in on any Trump proposal at odds with Republican orthodoxy, from his border wall to his massive infrastructure package. The most common reason, stated repeatedly but always privately: They're afraid of being attacked by Breitbart or other big-name Trump supporters. "Nobody wants to go first," said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who received nasty phone calls, letters and tweets after he penned an August op-ed in The New York Times, calling on Trump to release his tax returns. "People are naturally reticent to be the first out of the block for fear of Sean Hannity, for fear of Breitbart, for fear of local folks."

    An editor at Breitbart, formerly run by senior Trump adviser Steve Bannon, said that fear is well-founded.

    “If any politician in either party veers from what the voters clearly voted for in a landslide election … we stand at the ready to call them out on it and hold them accountable,” the person said.

  • Fox Contributor Newt Gingrich Wants Congress To Change Ethics Laws For Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich is advocating for Congress to “change the ethics laws” for President-elect Donald Trump, rather than forcing Trump to “disentangle himself from his multibillion-dollar business to avoid conflicts of interest with his incoming administration.”

    Following Trump’s electoral victory, ethics lawyers warned that “that no president has ever come into office with such potential entanglements” as Trump, and that his proposed plan to address his potential conflicts of interests by simply turning over his business to his children “doesn’t go far enough to ensure that Trump’s presidential duties don’t clash with his money-making dealings.” In fact, ethics lawyers have cautioned about Trump’s potential conflicts of interest since September, with the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush Richard Painter calling Trump’s potential conflicts of interest “a serious problem” that is deserving of media attention.

    Now, Gingrich, a staunch Trump supporter, is calling for “a whole new approach” for Congress to address Trump’s potential conflicts of interest: “Change the ethics laws.” Gingrich also suggested that Trump could use “the power of the pardon” to get around ethics laws by saying “Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.” According to Politico:

    Newt Gingrich has a take on how Donald Trump can keep from running afoul of U.S. ethics laws: Change the ethics laws.

    Trump is currently grappling with how to sufficiently disentangle himself from his multibillion-dollar business to avoid conflicts of interest with his incoming administration, and the president-elect has already pushed back a promised announcement of an ethics firewall.

    Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and one-time potential running mate for Trump, says Trump should push Congress for legislation that accounts for a billionaire businessman in the White House.

    “We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” Gingrich said Monday during an appearance on NPR’s "The Diane Rehm Show" about the president-elect’s business interests. “We’re going to have to think up a whole new approach.”

    And should someone in the Trump administration cross the line, Gingrich has a potential answer for that too.

    “In the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon,” Gingrich said. “It’s a totally open power. He could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period. Technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

    [...]

    Gingrich — who says he is not joining Trump's administration — didn’t provide many details for what a new approach would entail, other than reiterating his support for an outside panel of experts Trump should convene that would regularly monitor how his company and government are operating and “offer warnings if they get too close to the edge.”

  • Sunday Shows Largely Ignore NC GOP's "Unprecedented Power Grab”

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Sunday morning political shows almost entirely ignored the unprecedented move by North Carolina Republicans to significantly limit the executive powers of the incoming Democratic governor.

    On December 14, Republicans in the North Carolina state legislature launched a three-day special session for the sole purpose of introducing “a flurry of bills … to undermine [incoming Democratic Governor Roy] Cooper by stripping him of his ability to make key appointments to state and local boards and mandating, for the first time, legislative approval of his cabinet,” The New York Times reported. The Times added that the “significant shackling of the governor’s authority” may result in lawsuits from the incoming administration against the state legislature.

    CNN.com reported that the Republican legislature's "unprecedented power grab" includes legislation to “block Cooper from appointing any members to the state Board of Education and to the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina system,” and to slow lawsuits from reaching the majority Democratic-appointed state Supreme Court. The legislation also will revert to a partisan election process for filling vacancies at appellate level state courts.

    Despite North Carolina Republicans’ “brazen bid for permanent power,” the Sunday morning political shows of December 18 all but ignored their unprecedented actions. A Media Matters review of ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s State of the Union, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday found that only Meet the Press discussed the situation in one brief segment that lasted less than three minutes.

    Host Chuck Todd opened a discussion on Meet the Press about the events in North Carolina by describing them as “perfectly legal” due to Republicans’ “veto-proof majority.” (In fact, a legal challenge against North Carolina Republicans’ actions may be looming.) The segment also featured misinformation from CNBC’s Rick Santelli, a right-wing commentator sometimes credited for “launching the tea party movement,” who bizarrely transformed a story about a state political party’s power grab into a complaint that “the federal government gets too much control in various states.”

    Other national and internet media outlets have given this story the detailed reporting and thoughtful analysis it demands. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote that the “last-minute power grab marks an alarming departure from basic democratic norms” and is “a blatant attempt to overturn the results of an election by curtailing judicial independence and restructuring the government to seize authority lawfully delegated to the incoming Democratic governor.” The New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards excoriated North Carolina Republicans’ "novel strategy to subvert the will of the voters" in a “graceless power grab.” And as elections law expert Rick Hasen explained, some of the measures are so extreme that they could spur “potential Voting Rights Act and federal constitutional challenges” on the basis that “the legislature would potentially be diluting minority voting power and making minority voters worse off."

    Nonetheless, Sunday shows appear to be following the poor example set by broadcast news shows, which Media Matters previously found completely ignored the story for several days.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Snapstream and iQ Media for mentions of “North Carolina” on the December 18 editions of CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday.

  • Broadcast News Ignores NC GOP's “Unprecedented Power Grab”

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Broadcast news completely ignored an unprecedented move by North Carolina Republicans to limit the power of the state’s incoming Democratic governor. A series of measures put forth by the Republican-controlled legislature have been criticized as a way to “subvert the will of the voters,” and an elections law expert noted that they could spur legal challenges.

    Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly held a special session on December 14 in which they proposed a series of laws to strip away power from the state’s incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, including a bill that “removes partisan control of the state and county election boards from the governor,” according to The New York Times. Instead, the Times noted, “a Republican will lead the state board during election years and a Democrat in nonelection years.” A CNN.com report outlined other proposed legislation from the “unprecedented power grab,” including bills to slow the judicial process for the governor to bring legal battles to the state Supreme Court, to block Cooper from appointing members to the state Board of Education and the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina, and to reduce the number of appointments in the Cooper administration from 1,200 to 300.

    The special session was a surprise, called suddenly and immediately after the conclusion of another special session to address disaster relief. As The Atlantic noted, “legislators used the same obscure maneuver they did when they passed HB2,” an anti-LGBTQ law that governs access to public bathrooms, “calling themselves back into session with the support of three-fifths of legislators.” Several media figures have pointed out that the backlash against HB 2 -- which invalidated local governments' ability to provide legal protections for LGBTQ people -- was likely a deciding factor in Gov. Pat McCrory’s recent re-election loss. The Atlantic article also explained that Republican House Speaker Tim Moore claimed “the decision to open the second special session had been made only Wednesday,” December 14, which was “a lie that was quickly revealed by the list of signatures from legislators needed to call the session, dated December 12.”

    None of these details, however, have been reported on any national broadcast news programs since Wednesday. A review of the December 14 and 15 editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, NBC’s Nightly News, and of the December 15 and 16 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today found no mentions of the attempted power grab. Local affiliates of all three networks did cover the story.

    Other national and internet media outlets also covered the unprecedented moves. As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “This last-minute power grab marks an alarming departure from basic democratic norms” and is “a blatant attempt to overturn the results of an election by curtailing judicial independence and restructuring the government to seize authority lawfully delegated to the incoming Democratic governor.” The New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards criticized the North Carolina Republicans for “resorting to a novel strategy to subvert the will of the voters” and attempting a “graceless power grab.” CNN and MSNBC have also covered what MSNBC’s Chris Hayes described as a “legislative coup.” New York magazine reported that the bills will get a vote on December 20, but that the new measures may spur a larger battle. As elections law expert Rick Hasen explained, some of the measures would spur “potential Voting Rights Act and federal constitutional challenges.”

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Snapstream and iQ media for mentions of “North Carolina” on the December 14 and 15 editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News and the December 15 and 16 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today.

  • After Weeks Of Denials, Fox News Independently Confirms Russian Interference In US Election

    Catherine Herridge: “These Operations Were Sanctioned By The Highest Levels Of The Russian Government”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reported that Fox News has independently verified Russian-backed cyber militias targeted US systems in “an effort to interfere in the US election.” Herridge’s report comes after weeks of Fox News denying the Russian government could have anything to do with the election hack.

    After 17 intelligence agencies reported that the Russian government was involved with hacking political organizations’ emails, Fox News repeatedly attempted to cast doubt on the reports by calling the agencies political. Fox host Sean Hannity derided the CIA’s conclusions as “politically motivated” “fake news,” and his colleague Tucker Carlson has repeatedly downplayed the possibility of Russia influencing the election and attacked anybody supporting the thesis. And Fox News contributor John Bolton even claimed that the “ridiculous” allegations of Russian interference could be a “false flag.” 

    Despite Fox’s campaign to cast doubt on the possibility of the Russian government seeking to undermine American elections, a December 15 report from chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge said that “Fox News has independently confirmed that Russian backed cyber-militias were targeting US systems and influential US persons in the summer of 2015,” an operation which “evolved into an effort to interfere in the US election … sanctioned by the highest levels of the Russian government.” From the December 15 edition of Fox News’ The Kelly File:

    CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Fox News has independently confirmed that Russian-backed cyber militias were targeting US systems and influential US persons in the summer of 2015, and the operation evolved into an effort to interfere in the US election. These operations were sanctioned by the highest levels of the Russian government. 

    After the FBI director’s July statement about the Clinton email investigation, a government source says there was a reluctance to further insert government institutions and their assessments into an already deeply politicized election cycle. A leading cybersecurity expert says the intelligence community reviewed the techniques, tactics, and procedures leveraged in the attacks and made the link to Russia. In October, the agencies and Homeland Security, or DHS, went on the record, though Putin was not mentioned by name. 

  • Possible Trump Press Secretary Kimberly Guilfoyle Wanted Putin To Be President

    Guilfoyle Has Also Repeatedly Attacked Black Lives Matter, Refugees, And Immigrants

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Kimberly Guilfoyle, one of the co-hosts of Fox News’ The Five, has reportedly had multiple meetings with President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team about possibly serving as his press secretary. Like Trump, Guilfoyle has expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and even called for him to run America for a short time. She has also demonized the Black Lives Matter movement, calling it a hate group that thinks it’s “OK" to "kill cops.” And she has made incendiary comments about terror suspects, refugees and immigrants, including denying that Muslims have faced discrimination in America.

    Guilfoyle’s Positive Comments About Putin Included Request That He Run America To Defeat ISIS

    Guilfoyle Requested We Get “Putin In For 48 Hours” To Be President And Defeat ISIS.

    Guilfoyle Defended Trump’s Praise Of Putin As A Great Leader, Noting That It's "More Of A Strength Model To Say That Putin Will Do What It Takes To Defend His Country.”

    Guilfoyle Has Denigrated Blacks Lives Matter And Criticized Speaking Out Against Police Brutality

    Guilfoyle On Ferguson Black Lives Matter Protests: “It’s Like Savagery. It’s Barbaric.”

    Guilfoyle: Black Lives Matter Is “A Hate Group Against Police Officers.”

    Guilfoyle: Black Lives Matter’s Agenda Is “It’s OK To Go Ahead And Kill Cops.”

    Guilfoyle: Quentin Tarantino Speech At Police Brutality Protest Could “Engender More Violence Towards Police Officers.”

    Guilfoyle Called For Murdering Guantanamo Detainees And Reinstating Torture

    Guilfoyle: “Just Kill Them All And Close Gitmo.”

    Guilfoyle Claimed Waterboarding Was Legal And Said, “We Are Entitled To Do … Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.”

    Guilfoyle Fearmongered About Refugees And Immigrants

    Guilfoyle: Refugee Resettlement In America Is “Forced Infiltration.”

    Guilfoyle Falsely Claimed Syrian Refugees Entering America Are Overwhelmingly “Adult Males Of Fighting Age.”

    Guilfoyle Compared Immigration To “A Tumor Or A Disease.”

    Guilfoyle: Sanctuary Cities Mean U.S. Is “Importing Criminals Instead Of Exporting Them.”

    Guilfoyle Denied That Muslims Face Discrimination

    Guilfoyle: “Who’s Vilifying Any Of The Muslims? Who’s Doing That?”

    Guilfoyle Joined Co-Hosts In Questioning Prevalence Of Hate Crimes Against Muslims.