Media Structures & Regulations

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  • D.C. Press Took Collective Action To Protest Obama White House Restrictions -- Why Not Trump?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    With an allegation of Russian-style censorship hanging in the air in 2013, dozens of news organizations loudly protested to the Obama White House that journalists were being denied proper access for newsgathering. Taking collective action, the news outlets, including ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, requested “an immediate meeting” with White House officials “to resolve this very serious situation.”

    Specifically, the allegation was that the Obama White House was "routinely" excluding news photographers from presidential events that were recorded exclusively by a White House staff photographer. The administration claimed the events were “private.” News organizations countered that the White House's subsequent release of its own, in-house photos of those events on social media meant the events hadn’t actually been “private.”

    The conflict became intense. “A mini-revolt by news organisations against White House press restrictions gathered momentum Monday as USA Today joined other media shops to have declared a boycott on officially issued photographs,” The Guardian reported.

    In their letter to the White House, co-signed by 38 organizations including various news outlets, the White House Correspondents' Association, and the White House News Photographers Association, the groups wrote, “As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government."

    One National Journal headline at the time announced, “Obama’s Image Machine: Monopolistic Propaganda Funded by You.” And a New York Times photographer protested to the White House that its restrictions were “just like Tass,” the Soviet state news agency.

    Why is this collective outcry from 2013 relevant again now? And why is it worth noting the strategy news organization adopted to protest allegations of White House restrictions? Because today, those same news organizations face an incoming Trump administration that seems sure to institute new media restrictions that are far more stringent than the Obama White House's rules for photographers. Yet we don’t we hear much in terms of an organized protest.

    Back in 2013, dozens of individual news outlets joined press organizations to take strong action in documenting their grievances with the Obama White House over the photo restrictions, demanding that meetings be held and the problem solved. So why have they been so quiet and timid in terms of airing their objections with Trump?

    And no, 2013 wasn’t the only time news outlets banded together under Obama and took collective action to protest White House press limitations.

    In 2009, as a feud between Fox News and the Obama administration over Fox’s coverage boiled over – the White House labeled the conservative channel “not a news network” – the administration excluded Fox News from interviewing “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg, who was handling distribution of TARP funds during the financial crisis. The other television news networks showed solidarity by staging a “revolt” and boycotting their scheduled interviews.

    “All the networks said, that’s it, you’ve crossed the line,” CBS News’ Chip Reid reported at the time.

    And don’t forget that during the recent presidential campaign, about 17 journalists representing a multitude of news organizations joined forces and met for hours in Washington, D.C., because they were so angry with how Hillary Clinton's campaign was supposedly limiting access for journalists and they wanted to strategize about the best way to confront the campaign.

    In those three instances, when Washington journalists felt they had been slighted by Democrats, they took collective action. There were no signs of timidity. So what explains the media’s current passivity toward Trump while he seems poised to take a far worse stance toward the press?

    It’s true that the media’s 2013 protest came while Obama was in office, and that Trump hasn’t been sworn in yet. But it’s already common knowledge within the press corps that dramatic changes regarding White House access may be looming -- changes that make the complained-about restrictions on White House photographers under Obama look tame. In fact, expected Trump changes, the Times reported last month, could mean “a loss of transparency that would hinder the press’s role as a conduit for information to the people.”

    Why haven’t dozens of news organizations fired off a letter to Trump’s transition team, sternly demanding that he not abolish or diminish the presence of White House reporters? Why haven’t they demanded “an immediate meeting” with Trump officials “to resolve this very serious situation”?

    Recall that during the campaign, the petulant Trump often banned specific news organizations from his events. I don’t remember news outlets taking collective action against Trump in the spirit of all-for-one defiance. I don’t remember them boycotting scheduled interviews with Trump in solidarity with the news outlet that he had banned. Do you?

    In late 2015, several news organizations did discuss their concerns about access with the Trump campaign, according to The Huffington Post, but seemingly nothing came of it. In fact, "facing the risk of losing their credentialed access to Trump's events, the networks capitulated," BuzzFeed reported.

    Last November, after Trump ditched the press in New York City in order to go eat dinner, the White House Correspondents' Association publicly urged him to travel with a press pool, and his transition team promised it would "operate a traditional pool." Two months later, the WHCA is still trying to get Trump to establish a formal press pool that mirrors that of previous presidents. (FYI, Trump ditched the press again last month to go play golf.)

    Yet despite the stonewalling from Trump’s team, it was reported last week that the WHCA will host a reception for Trump’s communication aides in coming weeks.

    So instead of getting an angry letter denouncing press restrictions the way Obama officials did, Trump’s team is receiving social invitations.

  • Trump Just Shot Jim Acosta In The Middle Of Fifth Avenue And The Press Didn’t Blink

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    On the campaign trail last January, President-elect Donald Trump bragged that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters.”

    Today during his press conference, Trump did the rhetorical equivalent to CNN reporter Jim Acosta, and the assembled reporters did nothing.

    After Trump attacked CNN’s report that top U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian operatives may have compromising information about him, Acosta yelled out, “Since you are attacking us, can you give us a question?” In an extended back and forth, Trump lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet.

    “I’m not going to give you a question,” Trump said. “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!”

    Acosta was left to say that Trump was being “inappropriate” and sink back in his chair as Trump’s supporters clapped.

    And the rest of the press apparently did nothing at all. They watched it happen, then moved on to ask their own questions. Rather than deferring to their CNN colleagues until they had an opportunity to speak or or pushing back against Trump’s attack on a media outlet or even walking out, they acted like it hadn’t happened.

    This is a pattern. Members of the press have repeatedly refused to stand together as Trump has lashed out at their colleagues.

    Trump banned The Des Moines Register from covering his campaign after it printed a critical editorial. There was no collective response from the press. So he banned more outlets when he didn’t like their coverage.

    His campaign threw a New York Times reporter out of an event. No response from the press.

    He confined the reporters to press pens where he could mock them by name to the glee of his supporters, putting them in physical danger. And into the pens they went, day after day.

    His campaign manager allegedly manhandled a reporter. CNN hired the campaign manager!

    Trump treats reporters like conquered foes who he can manhandle at will. If they can’t figure out a way to stand up together and for one another, he will pick them off one by one and grind the free press into the dirt.

    The press conference reportedly ended with Acosta being heckled by Omarosa. Who’s next?

  • How To Overwhelm The Media

    Stacking A Press Conference and Six Confirmation Hearings On One Day, Trump And McConnell Try To Avoid Scrutiny

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President-elect Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have scheduled several Senate confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet picks -- as well as Trump’s first (and likely only) press conference of the transition -- on a single day next week. The strategy seems designed to ensure that the media is unable to devote sufficient scrutiny to each story and to reduce the possibility of an educated public responding.

    Trump announced yesterday that he will hold a “general news conference” on January 11. It will be the first Trump press conference since July 27, a stretch of 168 days. By contrast, President Barack Obama fielded questions from the White House press corps 18 times as president-elect; President George W. Bush did so on 11 occasions.

    Trump previously promised to hold a December 15 press conference to address the conflicts of interest his business empire creates for his presidency, but he canceled it. Those conflicts -- including the possibility that Trump will be in violation of both the Constitution and a contract with the federal government immediately upon taking office -- should be a top priority for journalists on January 11. But by refusing to give a press conference for so long, while simultaneously scaling back on media appearances, Trump has created such a backlog of potential issues that it will be impossible for reporters to give all of them the time and coverage they deserve.

    Meanwhile, McConnell has done his best to fracture journalist attention by ensuring that six different confirmation hearings are scheduled for the same day. Wednesday will see hearings for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the nominee for attorney general; ExxonMobil chairman Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state; billionaire conservative activist Betsy DeVos, for secretary of education; Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), for CIA director; Gen. John Kelly, for secretary of homeland security; and Elaine Chao, for secretary of transportation.

    Several of these nominations are extremely controversial. The American people deserve to know more about Tillerson’s ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, learn why white nationalists are so excited about Sessions’ nomination, hear what Pompeo thinks about Trump’s reported plan to gut the CIA after the agency produced information about Russia’s influence on the 2016 election that he didn’t want to hear, and determine whether DeVos would use her post to destroy public education.

    But with all the hearings stacked on the same day, on top of Trump’s press conference, it’s impossible for the media to provide the information people need. And that’s the point -- it appears to be a deliberate effort to manipulate both the press and the public.

    There are only so many column inches on Page 1. There are only so many segment blocks in a cable news show. The evening broadcast news programs -- watched by millions but with extremely little time for hard news -- will have to juggle a multitude of stories.

    TV newscasts in particular will be put in an impossible situation. They can try to drill down and give in-depth coverage to the stories they consider the most newsworthy and important and let the rest escape scrutiny altogether. Or they can try to cover them all, but provide only glancing attention to each. Either way, Trump and McConnell will have dramatically reduced the agenda-setting power of the press.

  • How Donald Trump Could Make Rupert Murdoch Even More Powerful

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President-elect Donald Trump may be preparing to give Rupert Murdoch a big reward for the positive coverage Murdoch’s outlets provided during the election.

    Trump has asked Murdoch to submit the names of possible nominees for Federal Communications Commission chairman, according to a report from New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman. Trump’s FCC will be positioned to roll back regulations that have kept Murdoch from buying up newspapers and television stations across the country.

    The two New York City-based moguls historically dislike one another, and Murdoch repeatedly criticized Trump in the early stages of the campaign and reportedly pressured Fox News to be more critical when covering Trump.

    But after Trump sewed up the Republican nomination, Murdoch reportedly “signaled he plans to fully back Trump in the general election against Hillary Clinton” in order to ensure “an open line to the new administration” if Trump won. They subsequently dined together during Trump’s June trip to Scotland, and Murdoch made a pilgrimage to Trump Tower following the election.

    Now Murdoch reportedly has the opportunity to cash in on the overwhelmingly positive coverage that his properties -- including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Post -- gave the incoming president.

    Murdoch has repeatedly been prevented from adding more newspapers to his media empire by FCC “cross-ownership” rules that restrict common ownership of broadcast TV and radio stations and newspapers in the same media market. The rules are intended to prevent consolidation of too much media power in too few hands. Media companies are also barred from owning television stations across the nation that collectively reach more than 39 percent of U.S. television households, and from owning two stations in a local media market if both stations are ranked in the top four in that market.

    By law, the FCC must review those rules every four years. After a years-long review process, the FCC board, composed of President Obama’s nominees, voted to retain the rules in 2016. Under Trump, all of those rules will be on the table for repeal.

    While Murdoch is far from the only head of a media company to oppose the cross-ownership rules, he has been among their fiercest opponents for decades. Those rules forced him to sell The New York Post in 1988, and he would be a major beneficiary of their elimination.

    Through 21st Century Fox, Murdoch currently owns 28 television stations in 17 markets in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Houston, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Orlando and Charlotte. His stations reach roughly 37 percent of U.S. television households, just under the FCC’s cap. If that cap is changed or eliminated under Trump, Murdoch would be able to purchase more stations and increase his impact on the media landscape.

    That matters because stations owned by 21st Century Fox frequently push the same conservative slant in their broadcasts as the Fox News cable channel does, often running the same news packages and hosting the same personalities.

    Cross-ownership rules have also prevented Murdoch from purchasing newspapers in the media markets where he owns television stations (he has a waiver to own the Post now, and his ownership of The Wall Street Journal is not subject to the rule because it is considered a national paper). In 2014, Murdoch complained that he was unable to purchase the Los Angeles Times or the Tribune Company because cross-ownership restrictions prevented him from owning papers in Chicago or Los Angeles since he already owned TV stations in those markets. He also dropped his 2008 bid for Newsday amid reports that the seller was concerned Murdoch would not be able to get a waiver to allow the deal to go through.

    If a Trump FCC changes or eliminates the cross-ownership rules, Murdoch may be able to snap up papers across the country. In the years after Murdoch purchased the Journal in 2007, dozens of journalists fled the paper, with many telling Media Matters that its coverage had shifted to the right and away from more in-depth reporting.

    Staffers were particularly disturbed when Gerard Baker, a well-known conservative columnist for Murdoch's The Times of London, was installed as the paper’s deputy editor-in-chief in 2009. Baker was promoted to editor-in-chief in 2013. Baker reportedly urged editors to be “fair” to Trump at a May morning news meeting; in October, the paper’s reporters criticized their own election coverage, telling Politico they had produced “galling,” “flattering” pro-Trump “stories on the front [page]” and the “false balance in treating him just like another nominee” was “absurd.”

    If Trump gives Murdoch his reward, we could see the same pattern play out in media markets nationwide.

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko

  • Fox News Insiders Agree: Megyn Kelly’s Replacement Will Be A Pro-Trump Woman

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reports that according to Fox News insiders, Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s replacement on Fox “will be a pro-Trump conservative.”

    On January 3, Megyn Kelly announced that she will be leaving Fox News for NBC, saying in a statement on her Facebook page, “I have decided to end my time at FNC, incredibly enriched for the experiences I've had."

    According to insiders who spoke with Sherman, “the Murdochs will choose a woman” to replace Kelly in her nightly 9 PM slot, and all agree “that whoever replaces Kelly will be a pro-Trump conservative”:

    Inside Fox News, staffers are speculating over who will replace Kelly. According to insiders I spoke with today, the consensus seems to be that the Murdochs will choose a woman to fill her 9 p.m. time slot. The leading internal contenders include Trish Regan, Shannon Bream, Sandra Smith, and Martha MacCallum. Two sources said Kimberly Guilfoyle is lobbying for the job.

    The one thing Fox insiders are in agreement on is that whoever replaces Kelly will be a pro-Trump conservative. In the wake of Ailes’s ouster, some media observers speculated that 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch wanted to reposition Fox to the center, bringing it more in line with his moderate political views. But the selection of a pro-Trump host to fill Kelly’s slot would suggest that Fox is instead doubling down on its right-wing politics and planning to align itself with the new administration. After initially being hostile to Trump, Murdoch has made moves to curry favor with the president-elect. Fox insiders told me that Murdoch personally named pro-Trump anchor Tucker Carlson to replace Greta Van Susteren at 7 p.m.

    Murdoch’s relationship with Trump has greatly improved since the depths of Trump’s battle with Kelly last year. “I really like Rupert Murdoch!” Trump told guests at Mar-a-Lago over the holidays, according to an attendee. “Roger Ailes was a friend of mine, but Fox’s coverage is so much better since he left.”

    If Fox News’ politics ultimately solidify as more pro-Trump than they were during the campaign, that might be to the benefit of Murdoch’s business interests. According to a well-placed source, Trump has asked Murdoch to submit names for FCC Chairman. Murdoch, another source said, also wants conditions put on the AT&T-Time Warner merger, and he could lobby Trump to make that happen.