Media Structures & Regulations

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  • Leaked Fox Memo Says Online Polls "Do Not Meet Our Editorial Standards"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Business Insider reported that the Fox News vice president for public-opinion research sent an internal memo “reminding television producers and the politics team that unscientific online polls ‘do not meet our editorial standards.’” 

    After the September 26 presidential debate, Fox News hosts and contributors repeatedly cited online polls, which largely favored Republican nominee Donald Trump, to defend Trump’s widely panned performance. Fox & Friends continued to hype online polls on September 28, the day after the internal Fox memo was sent, with co-host Brian Kilmeade stating that “the online polls show [Trump] winning an overwhelming margin.” In fact, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton dominated in scientific polls. 

    The September 27 memo, sent by Dana Blanton, Fox News’ vice president of public-opinion research, noted that “quick vote items posted on the web are nonsense, not true measures of public opinion.” Blanton wrote that "the sample obviously can't be representative of the electorate because they only reflect the views of those Internet users who have chosen to participate.” From the September 28 Business Insider article:

    A Fox News executive sent a memo Tuesday afternoon reminding television producers and the politics team that unscientific online polls "do not meet our editorial standards."

    Dana Blanton, the vice president of public-opinion research at Fox News, explained in the memo obtained by Business Insider that "online 'polls' like the one on Drudge, Time, etc. where people can opt-in or self-select … are really just for fun."

    "As most of the publications themselves clearly state, the sample obviously can't be representative of the electorate because they only reflect the views of those Internet users who have chosen to participate," Blanton wrote.

    As the Fox News executive pointed out, users who participate in such polls must have internet access, be online at the time of the poll, be fans of the website in question, and self-select to participate.

    "Another problem — we know some campaigns/groups of supporters encourage people to vote in online polls and flood the results," she wrote. "These quickie click items do not meet our editorial standards."

    At least three Fox News hosts cited unscientific online polls in the hours following Monday's presidential debate to suggest Donald Trump emerged as the winner of the political showdown.

    While Trump did, in fact, come out ahead in a slew of online polls, the polls were all unscientific, meaning the sample of participants did not accurately reflect the sample of viewers who watched the debate. Such polls are almost always discounted by professional pollsters and analysts.

    The only scientific survey conducted in the immediate aftermath was the CNN/ORC instant poll, which showed viewers thought Hillary Clinton handily defeated Trump. Respondents to a Morning Consult poll released Wednesday also said, by a 49% to 26% margin, that Clinton bested Trump in the debate.

    "News networks and other organizations go to great effort and rigor to conduct scientific polls — for good reason," Blanton wrote in the memo. "They know quick vote items posted on the web are nonsense, not true measures of public opinion."

  • New Roundups Of Trump’s Lies Prove Why Fact-Checking Is Vital During Presidential Debates

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Politico all independently published on September 24 and 25 reviews of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s “blizzard of falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies” in just the last week. Given that Trump’s “mishandling of facts and propensity for exaggeration” is so “frequent,” these reports of Trump’s “untruths” bolster the case for debate moderators to fact-check the candidates during the presidential debates.

    Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are set to debate on September 26 in the first of three meetings. Given that Trump has a startling penchant for lying and that Trump’s debate prep team is filled with conspiracy theorists and disreputable political operatives, journalists and veteran debate moderators have called on the moderators to hold the candidates to a high level of truth-telling and fact-check their inaccurate statements.

    Media Matters has also called on the debate moderators to fact-check the candidates in real-time, so a debate over settled fact does not become a “‘he said, she said’” situation. Failing to fact-check Trump’s lies during the debate will also feed into the growing media tendency to lower the bar for Trump and hold the two candidates to different standards.

    Those calls for asking “tough follow-up questions” have been given even more importance with these new studies. Trump, according to a five-day Politico analysis of his most recent remarks, “averaged about one falsehood every three minutes and 15 seconds.” The Politico analysis found 87 different lies of Trump’s, including on issues such as the economy, health care, national security, immigration, and Clinton, among others. The study also noted Trump’s September 16 lie that “he was not the person responsible for the birtherism campaign to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency.” 

    The New York Times also “closely tracked Mr. Trump’s public statements from Sept. 15-21, and assembled a list of his 31 biggest whoppers, many of them uttered repeatedly.” The Times spotlighted Trump’s “most consistent falsehood he tells about himself” -- “that he opposed the war in Iraq from the start” -- which the “evidence shows otherwise.” The Times also highlighted Trump’s “unfounded claims about critics and the news media,” “inaccurate claims about Clinton,” and “stump speech falsehoods.”

    The Washington Post similarly examined “one week of Trump’s speeches, tweets and interviews” and found that Trump “continues to rely heavily on thinly sourced or entirely unsubstantiated claims.” The Post’s roundup of Trump’s recent “false or questionable claims” and “controversial and debunked statements” included his erroneous assertion that the black community is “in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before, ever, ever, ever” and his false claim that law enforcement cannot question a person suspected of carrying an explosive.

    Though print media outlets are becoming increasingly comfortable spotlighting Trump’s compulsive lying, his habit is not new: PolitiFact found that 70 percent of Trump’s assertions throughout his campaign have been “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” The Times, Post, and Politico’s roundups of Trump’s lying just in the past week show how crucial it is for debate moderators to be vigilant fact-checkers during the debate.

  • Report: Trump Campaign Continues To Pay CNN’s Corey Lewandowski For Consulting Work

    Consulting Payment Appears To Differ From Severance From Trump Campaign, Which CNN Discloses

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    CNN political commentator and former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski “was paid $20,000 in August” by the Republican presidential nominee's campaign for “‘strategy consulting,’” according to The Washington Post. The payment escalates CNN’s unprecedented conflict of interest in which Lewandowski is on the payroll of both CNN and the campaign, and it raises questions about the extent of Lewandowski’s role in the Trump campaign.

    Lewandowski, who was hired by CNN as a political commentator in June, is still currently receiving severance from the campaign. Lewandowski’s firm was also paid a “regular $20,000 monthly fee” for “advice” in July by the Trump campaign.

    The ethical morass that has accompanied Lewandowski’s appearances on CNN given that he still advising, traveling with, and drawing payment from Trump has drawn sustained outcry from journalists and media ethicists. CNN President Jeff Zucker recently defended Lewandowski’s hiring and admitted that he was aware that the former campaign manager continued to receive severance payments from the campaign at the time of his hiring.

    The Washington Post reported on September 21 that Lewandowski “was paid $20,000 in August by the campaign for what it described as ‘strategy consulting,’” once again raising “anew the conflict of interest issue that has dogged the cable network’s hiring of Lewandowski.” The Post wrote that although CNN has been “introducing [Lewandowski’s] appearances … by mentioning that he receives severance from Trump,” the August payment for “‘strategy consulting’” suggests “that Lewandowski is playing a more active and current role in the campaign than ‘severance’ would suggest.” The Post further noted that if CNN is in fact paying Lewandoski to comment on a candidate and campaign he is compensated by, that would be “a conflict that most journalistic organizations prohibit.” From the September 21 Washington Post article:

    CNN commentator and former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was paid $20,000 in August by the campaign for what it described as “strategy consulting,” raising anew the conflict of interest issue that has dogged the cable network’s hiring of Lewandowski.

    CNN has said previously that Trump’s payments to Lewandowski and his consulting firm were “severance” for his employment by Trump. It began introducing his appearances on the air last month by mentioning that he receives severance from Trump.

    But the payments continued in August, according to Trump’s campaign expenditure filing released Tuesday night. The description used by Trump’s campaign in the filing — “strategy consulting” — also suggested that Lewandowski is playing a more active and current role in the campaign than “severance” would suggest.

    If so, it would put CNN in the position of employing a person who is also compensated by the campaign and the candidate he comments on — a conflict that most journalistic organizations prohibit.

    Representatives of CNN and Trump’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment early Wednesday.

    Lewandowski has apparently maintained close ties with the campaign despite being fired by Trump and escorted from Trump Tower by security officers in June. Various news reports have described him as an “informal” adviser to the campaign.

    CNN chairman Jeff Zucker has repeatedly defended the hiring of Lewandowski, most recently at an employee town hall meeting on Tuesday, according to the Huffington Post. Zucker has said the network needed to add pro-Trump voices to balance the stable of commentators who support Hillary Clinton and that Lewandowski brought inside knowledge of Trump’s campaign.

    For information on Media Matters’ petition for CNN to cut ties with Lewandowski, please click here.

  • Fox Figures Step Up Participation In Trump's Campaign

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    The close-knit relationship between Fox News and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign has strengthened in recent days, as several Fox figures have stepped up their participation in Trump’s campaign. Fox’s intimacy with the Trump campaign has been central to the candidate’s overwhelming media presence and his propagation of lies.

    Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who rejoined Fox News as a contributor in August, introduced Trump at a September 19 campaign rally, lauding him as “someone who … can genuinely change history.” Gingrich has long had a foot in both camps, serving at one point as a Fox contributor while under consideration as Trump’s running mate. Gingrich currently serves as a close Trump ally and has been reportedly offered a job in Trump’s potential administration. 

    Fox host and avid Trump supporter Sean Hannity recently appeared in an ad for Trump, listing several reasons why “I’m supporting Donald Trump this year.” Hannity has been one of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders throughout the election, using his prime-time show to openly shill for Trump and advance his lies.

    Former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes wasted no time transitioning into the role of a top Trump adviser following his ouster, perhaps the most glaring example of the Fox-Trump lovefest. Ailes is reportedly advising Trump for the presidential debates, Trump has said he “would think about” hiring his “friend” Ailes as a campaign consultant, and the two reportedly “counseled each other in multiple phone calls” during the fallout over Ailes’ alleged sexual harassment. As part of his resignation deal, Ailes also serves as an adviser to Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch. 

    Fox figures’ intimate involvement in the Trump campaign comes as the candidate has limited his media appearances to be almost exclusively on Fox. Trump has retreated “to friendly media ground” to “[limit] the candidate's exposure to hard-hitting questions,” writes CNN’s Brian Stelter:

    Donald Trump's reputation for being always available to reporters is way out of date.

    Trump is saying "yes" to Fox News almost every day but saying "no" to most other major networks and news organizations -- a highly unusual strategy for a presidential nominee.

    He called into "Fox & Friends" on Monday morning, he is booked on "The O'Reilly Factor" Monday night, and he has another town hall with Sean Hannity coming up on Wednesday.

    Even Fox’s media critic, Howard Kurtz, admitted that Trump is “refusing to appear on many television outlets” outside of Fox because those “interviews entail too much risk” for Trump to misstep. 

    The continued Fox-Trump relationship is in keeping with the network's role thus far as a mouthpiece for the Trump campaign: During the Republican primary, Fox gave Trump more than twice as much airtime as the other Republican candidates.

    UPDATE: In a statement to The Washington Post's Erik Wemple, a Fox spokesperson said, "We had no knowledge that Sean Hannity was participating in this" Trump ad "and he will not be doing anything along these lines for the remainder of the election.”

  • During Interview With Donald Trump, O'Reilly Ignores Ailes’ Role In Debate Preparation

    O'Reilly Attacks Debate Moderators Cooper And Raddatz As "Partisan People;" Praises Fox's Wallace As "Fair"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET


    While speaking to Donald Trump about upcoming presidential debates, Bill O’Reilly did not ask Trump about reports that former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes is helping Trump’s campaign with debate preparations.

    Over the course of an interview spanning more than 7 minutes, O’Reilly did not bring up the widely reported claim that Roger Ailes “is advising Donald J. Trump as he begins to prepare for the all-important presidential debates this fall.” Instead, O’Reilly urged Trump to attack upcoming debate moderators Lester Holt, Anderson Cooper, and Martha Raddatz, who he characterized as “kind of partisan people,” and prompted Trump to praise Fox host and debate moderator Chris Wallace:

    BILL O'REILLY (HOST): You have two kind of partisan people though. The next debate you have Martha Raddatz at ABC, who I worked with in Boston. Brilliant journalist, but she is a Democrat. And then Anderson Cooper, I think he does a decent job over there but he is a Democrat, OK? So, you have two Democrats, and you don't -- are you showing up for that, or what are you going to do?

    DONALD TRUMP: And by the way, Lester is a Democrat.

    O'REILLY: I didn't know that.

    TRUMP: Look, it's a phony system. Lester is a Democrat. I mean, they are all Democrats. Okay? It's a very unfair system. I -- look, I've worked pretty well within the system. I guess by a lot of polls I'm leading many of the polls, and most of the polls -- CNN just came out with a poll I'm leading nationwide by two. I'm leading a lot of the states. I'm leading Florida where I am now by three or four. Something just came out. A poll just came out. I'm leading it by three points or four points. And, you know, I think I'm doing well. Leading Ohio, leading in North Carolina. I think we are doing very well.

    O'REILLY: Alright, but after the debate things will change and you will see.

    TRUMP: And the system's a guest --

    O'REILLY: Raddatz and Cooper, you OK with them, or no?

    TRUMP: No, not really. I'm not okay with Anderson Cooper because I think he treats me very unfairly at CNN. I think he is very unfair on CNN. I think CNN, they call it the Clinton News Network that's why the ratings aren't doing very well.

    O'REILLY: Well, they have to compete with MSNBC, that's why they may be doing that. But you say you are not happy with it, but you will show up, you are not going to boycott it like you did the Fox thing.

    TRUMP: No, I will show up. I will show up, they're gaming the ref, that's what they are doing.

    O'REILLY: Right, and the last one is Chris Wallace. He is fair, right?

    TRUMP: He is fair, he is tough. He is fair, and I don't mind as long as he is fair. And I have done a lot of work with Chris, and I have never had a problem with him.

    O’Reilly’s decision to avoid pressing Trump on Ailes’ debate preparation continues Fox’s trend of ignoring Ailes’ role within the Trump campaign. Fox’s Sunday shows have previously ignored reports that Roger Ailes is advising Trump, and Fox News’ Brit Hume recently neglected to ask Trump adviser Newt Gingrich about Ailes’ role in debate preparations.

  • The Trump Birther Headlines Problem

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Scanning media headlines after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s statement about his racist birther crusade, one could reasonably come away thinking Trump had fully renounced and apologized for his years-long offensive campaign to delegitimize President Barack Obama. That was not the case -- Trump did not apologize and in fact blatantly lied in his 26-second remarks -- but media’s collective failure to accurately describe the event in their headlines may have left readers thinking Trump shut the door on his birtherism.

    After building “suspense” that he was going to definitively address his racist accusations that President Obama was not born in the United States, Trump used his “circus” of an event to briefly say that “President Obama was born in the United States. Period" and to falsely accuse “‘Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008” of starting “the birther controversy.” Trump also erroneously claimed he had “finished” the controversy by forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate.

    Online and print headlines largely failed to contextualize the event or note Trump’s lie about Clinton:

    The New York Times:

    CNN:

    The Hill:

    The Los Angeles Times:

    The Associated Press:

    The New York Times did eventually change its headline to: “Trump Drops False ‘Birther’ Theory, but Floats a New One: Clinton Started It.”

    Though the original headlines are not technically incorrect, the lack of context -- Trump’s brief comments after taking the media for a ride, his outright lie about Clinton starting birther rumors, and his false assertion that he had “finished” the birther controversy -- likely misled readers.

    Conversely, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post got it right:

    As former senior adviser to President Obama and current CNN contributor Dan Pfeiffer noted:

    The Washington Post’s David Weigel wrote in a September 15 column that Trump, whom he called “the chyron candidate,” has “never failed to offer enough detail to fit in a headline or cable news chyron,” and that although most reporters make key distinctions and include crucial context “in the body of their stories,” context is often “elided” in “headlines or tweets.” Weigel pointed to the issue of the candidates’ disclosures of their medical information as an example:

    That matters. If, like many people, you only glance at the news (yes, we know how long readers spend finishing articles), you come away with the impression that Trump is trading Clinton blow for blow and white paper for white paper. If either candidate released their entire medical history, or Trump revealed his entire tax returns, only a handful of voters might even read them. They'd depend on the press to find the story and the lede. Most coverage of campaigns needs to be shrunk to fit a chyron, anyway; Trump's innovation has been to preshrink the news.

    Headlines matter in a Twitter-driven, fast-paced media landscape. Offering crucial details in articles -- but not in headlines -- may not be enough anymore, particularly in the age of Trump.