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While Hannity Defended Trump On Fox News, He Failed To Disclose Personal Ties To Veterans Group That Received Trump Donation
Fox News host Sean Hannity has vehemently defended Donald Trump from criticism surrounding his alleged donations to various veterans groups. But Hannity failed to disclose his own ties to one of the veteran’s organizations that received a donation from Trump.
According to The Washington Post, as Hannity went to bat for Trump on the issue of donations to veterans groups on the May 31 edition of his Fox News show, he failed to disclose his “years-long relationship with one of the groups Trump had just chosen for a donation”:
What Hannity didn't say on air was that he had a years-long relationship with one of the groups Trump had just chosen for a donation. The charity, Freedom Alliance, received a $75,000 gift.
That money had originally come from other big donors, who had entrusted it to the Donald J. Trump Foundation, on the promise that Trump would pass it along to individual veterans groups.
On Wednesday, there were conflicting accounts of Hannity's current connection to the group. In a statement, a Fox News spokeswoman said Hannity no longer works with Freedom Alliance.
"Sean Hannity has generously donated to, and proudly worked in the past with the Freedom Alliance organization, but has not worked with them for a number of years, including the current election cycle,” a Fox News spokeswoman wrote.
But the president of Freedom Alliance told The Washington Post in a telephone interview that Hannity still remained informally connected to the group, telling others about its work. Hannity is not listed as an officer or employee of the group in its tax filings.
Trump has enjoyed a cozy relationship with Hannity since declaring his candidacy, with Trump at one point suggesting their close relationship was as if the two were “twins.” Hannity has also been heavily criticized for being “very soft” with Trump in interviews.
Hannity has defended himself by asserting, “I’m not a journalist, I’m a talk show host” and said on his radio show, that he’s not critical of Trump or Cruz because he wants the Republican nominee to win. He has also said he “absolutely plead[s] guilty” to “going soft in interviews on Republicans.”
Fox News as an institution has also defended Trump’s delayed donations to veterans groups, with various hosts suggesting they were “disturbed by” media “giving [Trump] a hard time” and that “there’s something to be said for” the donation. Even Bill O’Reilly dishonestly argued that “there was no data … that said [Trump] didn’t give the money” to veterans groups and that the story was “fabricated by anti-Trump people in the press.” But according to CBS News, much of the money that was donated was dated “May 24, the day The Washington Post published the story questioning whether he had distributed all of the money."
Several Fox News hosts defended presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump from criticism over his delayed donations to veterans’ charity groups, arguing that the criticism was “basically a supposition fabricated by anti-Trump people in the press” and that “the end does justify the means.”
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Why Have Democrats Been Held To Tougher Media Standard?
Donald Trump recently made headlines when he spoke at the annual Rolling Thunder biker rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Portrayed as a way to “bolster support among veterans,” Trump rallied the crowd of bikers and their supporters with promises to “rebuild our military” and “take care of our veterans.”
But in the Rolling Thunder rally coverage, there was little press attention paid to the fact that Trump himself actively avoided the draft during the Vietnam War, which seemed relevant considering he was speaking to so many Vietnam vets at an event dedicated to honoring America’s prisoners of war and military members who are missing in action. Typically the campaign press lingers over issues of awkward optics like that. But not for Trump and Rolling Thunder.
While writing “the blunt-spoken Mr. Trump” “likes to stress his desire to strengthen the military and improve how veterans are treated,” The New York Times made no reference to Trump’s Vietnam avoidance.
Reuters included just a passing reference to how Trump “did not serve in the military.” And The Washington Post managed to fit in its dispatch a single sentence noting, “Trump himself avoided the draft through four student deferments and was later medically disqualified from service.”
Trump graduated college in 1968 and managed to not serve in the Vietnam War as the conflict reached its deadly apex. For some reason this campaign season the press doesn’t much care about the topic and has largely walked away from the model of previous cycles when Baby Boomer candidates were repeatedly pressed to explain their ‘60s wartime years.
In general, the larger umbrella topic of Vietnam has come up in Trump coverage in two specific ways. But the questions to date have revolved around a pair of modern-day controversies: When Trump derided Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in North Vietnam, for being captured by the enemy, and the controversy that has swirled around Trump’s pledge to raise and donate $6 million to veterans groups. (Trump’s McCain comments were referenced in several of the stories about his Rolling Thunder appearance.)
In fact, much of Trump’s contentious news conference on Tuesday featured him taking questions about the donations. (And then him mocking reporters).
But in terms of Trump having been an able-bodied American, college-aged male at the height of the Vietnam War and what actions he took to avoid serving? Those questions have been of little or no concern to journalists this year, despite the fact that the official campaign story of how Trump avoided the war ought to spark lots of questions from curious journalists.
The Trump tale: A former “star athlete” in high school who friends say could have played baseball professionally, Trump was deemed medically unfit to serve in 1968 because of bone spurs in both his heels. Free of military service, Trump was then able to focus on a lifestyle as the bachelor son of a millionaire real estate developer. ("When I graduated from college, I had a net worth of perhaps $200,000," he wrote in his 1987 autobiography Trump: The Art of the Deal.)
What’s remarkable about the media’s willingness to look away from the issue is that the last three Democratic nominees who were also college-aged men during the Vietnam War era were often hounded by media questions during the campaign season about either their lack of military experience (Bill Clinton), or they were forced to explain and defend their service overseas (Al Gore and John Kerry).
Even though Gore was among just a handful of Harvard graduates from his Class of 1969 to volunteer for the war, Gore’s tour of duty was often belittled by journalists during the 2000 campaign. Writing in February 2000, a former Gore aide marveled at the proliferation of news articles about Gore’s supposed exaggerations, which often centered on claims he “overstated his Army service in Vietnam.”
And of course, Kerry’s medal-winning service in Vietnam became the target of a Republican smear campaign during the 2004 campaign; an ugly smear operation that the press legitimized by not forcefully debunking the obvious lies at its center.
As for Clinton, how many trees did newspaper publishers kill in order to delve into every possible nook and cranny regarding his lack of Vietnam service during the 1992 campaign? How many Clinton draft board members were interviewed, how many old letters were leaked, and how many Yale friends had their memories probed in search of key details from the late `60s? It was all treated as a Supremely Important campaign story by the media.
Trump bypassing Vietnam? Not so much.
To their credit, the Washington Post, New York Daily News and Politico are among those that have published detailed looks at how Trump avoided serving in Vietnam and the candidate’s “shifting accounts.” But those articles all ran nearly a year ago and since then the topic has been of very little interest to those newsrooms and most others. (The Daily Beast recently proved to be an exception.)
Today, the campaign press doesn’t seem to care about Trump’s lack of Vietnam service. But in 1992, the Times editorialized that of course the topic was central to campaigns:
Voters have good reason to examine this issue. Whether or not one accepts the propriety of delving into Governor Clinton's private life, there can be no doubt about the legitimacy of asking how a public official behaved during the Vietnam years; the question provides an illuminating test.
Overall, additional references to Trump’s deferments have been made. But very few have addressed the specifics of his medical story.
What’s amazing in contrasting the lack of coverage this cycle with previous ones is the way Clinton dealt with the Vietnam War and how Trump dealt with it 50 years ago are somewhat similar. So shouldn’t they be equally newsworthy?
Back in the 1960s, both Clinton and Trump, like millions of men at the time, received deferments while they were in college. Both men then faced exposure to the draft after they graduated (Clinton in 1969, Trump in 1968) and became 1-A, or "available for service."
Both men were then able to avoid being drafted. Trump did it by getting a medical deferment for bone spurs, therefore classified 1-Y.
“One big question is whether Trump actively sought the deferment by bringing a letter from his own doctor to the physical citing the bone spur problem,” noted Politico last year. “Young men with access to friendly family physicians had this advantage at the time in dealing with draft physicals.”
Added Trump biographer Wayne Barrett, “There’s no question it fit a pattern of avoidance that was commonplace in his generation.”
That sounds like a news story to me, especially when Trump is already making headlines about U.S. veterans.
Many Veterans Organizations Report They Didn’t Get Money Until After Washington Post Report Criticized Trump’s Lack Of Disclosure
Fox host Bill O'Reilly defended presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump from criticism about the transparency of his donations to veterans groups after multiple Washington Post reports revealed that Trump had not donated the alleged $6 million to veterans organizations in the months following a fundraising event on January 28th.
Donald Trump announced on May 31 that he had donated $5.6 million raised in a televised benefit for veterans charities. During his announcement Trump attacked the media for pressuring him to disclose his donations:
“I wasn’t looking for the credit, but I had no choice but to do this because the press was saying I didn’t raise any money for them,” Trump said.
The donations Trump announced on Tuesday were related to a Jan. 28 fundraiser for veterans that he held in Des Moines, on a night when Trump skipped a GOP debate due to a feud with its host, Fox News. That night, Trump said he'd raised $6 million. Most of it came from other donors, but Trump said he would give $1 million of his own.
Later that evening Bill O’Reilly defended Trump on the May 31 edition of The O’Reilly Factor. During the show, O’Reilly argued that "there was no data" proving Donald Trump "didn't give the money," and argued that media scrutiny directed at Trump's fundraiser was "basically a supposition, fabricated by anti-Trump people in the press."
But according to reports,Trump had not donated all of the money he raised for veterans until after his campaign received scrutiny from journalist, and could not provide a total accounting of how much money was raised or which organizations it had been donated to.
On May 21, The Washington Post’s David Farenthold reported that Trump’s campaign manager revealed that Trumps fundraiser “actually netted about $4.5 million, or 75 percent of the total that Trump announced” for veterans groups:
Lewandowski blamed the shortfall on Trump’s own wealthy acquaintances. He said some of them had promised big donations that Trump was counting on when he said he had raised $6 million. But Lewandowski said those donors backed out and gave nothing.
“There were some individuals who he’d spoken to, who were going to write large checks, [who] for whatever reason . . . didn’t do it,” Lewandowski said in a telephone interview. “I can’t tell you who.”
Lewandowski also said he did not know whether a $1 million pledge from Trump himself was counted as part of the $4.5 million total. He said Trump has given that amount, but he declined to identify any recipients.
Even with the lower total, Trump’s fundraiser brought in millions of dollars for veterans’ charities. The Washington Post’s accounting, based on interviews with charities, has found at least $3.1 million in donations to veterans groups.
The Washington Post also reported that 4 months after his initial pledge, Trump gave his own $1 million donation only after he received scrutiny from the press:
Almost four months after promising $1 million of his own money to veterans’ causes, Donald Trump moved to fulfill that pledge Monday evening — promising the entire sum to a single charity as he came under intense media scrutiny.
Trump, now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, organized a nationally televised fundraiser for veterans’ causes in Des Moines on Jan. 28. That night, Trump said he had raised $6 million, including the gift from his own pocket.
“Donald Trump gave $1 million,” he said then.
As recently as last week, Trump’s campaign manager had insisted that the mogul had already given that money away. But that was false: Trump had not.
And CBS News reported that much of the money that was donated was dated “May 24, the day The Washington Post published the story questioning whether he had distributed all of the money."
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According to Fox's Bill O'Reilly, feminist journalists should not be allowed to report on Donald Trump because “Trump is the antithesis” of feminism. By O’Reilly’s standard, any journalist Trump may have offended would be disqualified from reporting on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
On the May 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly speculated on whether "the national media can cover Trump with any fairness," suggesting that editors should not let feminist journalists report on Trump because his past in the beauty pageant world would bias feminists against him (emphasis added):
BILL O'REILLY: She is a feminist. Trump is a beauty contestant purveyor. Do you let a feminist report on a beauty contestant person who is now turned politician?
O’REILLY: Wait, wait. If I'm an editor and I know there is a feminist woman in my newsroom who is brilliant, because I think this woman is an excellent reporter, I don't let her report on a guy like Trump because Trump is the antithesis of that. And so I don't want any margin of error here. There are plenty of reporters who can do the story. Do you not see that?
Based on O'Reilly's logic, anyone who has reasons to find Trump's positions problematic is unfit to cover him. This standard disqualifies a lot of people:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Under this rubric, the only people left to cover Donald Trump would likely be those who have made softball interviews of the candidate their specialty, like Sean Hannity, those amplifying Trump’s conspiracy theories like Alex Jones, or people who share a “personal friendship” with the candidate, like O’Reilly. Following O’Reilly’s logic, media’s role of vetting, fact-checking and challenging a candidate, would become a thing of the past.
Media are decrying Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’ obstruction of Eric Fanning’s nomination to be Army Secretary as “unreasonable intransigence” and “part of larger inaction” by Congress to undermine President Obama’s federal nominations.
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Right-Wing Media Has Hyped False Claims And Speculation Into Benghazi That Continue To Fuel The GOP Investigation
The Department of Defense criticized the investigation of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, saying repeated requests for documents and information have strained DOD resources and that they’re often based on, as Politico put it, “speculative or hypothetical” queries. Right-wing media have created many of the baseless conspiracy theories that helped create and fuel the Benghazi committee.
In an April 28 letter to the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Hedger explained the strain the House investigation has had on the DOD, which has spent “millions of dollars on Benghazi-specific Congressional compliance, including reviews by four other committees.” Hedger specifically took issue with the ever-expanding investigation -- and its speculative nature -- noting that “DoD interviewees have been asked repeatedly to speculate or engage in discussing on the record hypotheticals posed by Committee Members and staff.” Politico reported on the letter:
The Pentagon is pushing back against the House Benghazi Committee, saying its repeated requests for documents and interviews are straining the department's resources — and, to make matters worse, many of the queries are speculative or hypothetical.
Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Hedger complained in a letter to the committee on Thursday about its continued demands for information, and implied that the panel is grasping to make assertions based on theory rather than facts.
“[W]hile I understand your stated intent is to conduct the most comprehensive review of the attack and response, Congress has as much of an obligation as the executive branch to use federal resources and taxpayer dollars effectively and efficiently,” the letter reads. “The Department has spent millions of dollars on Benghazi-specific Congressional compliance, including reviews by four other committees, which have diligently reviewed the military’s response in particular.”
Hedger also complained that Defense Department interviewees “have been asked repeatedly to speculate or engage in discussing on the record hypotheticals.”
“This type of questioning poses the risk that your final report may be based on speculation rather than a fact-based analysis of what a military officer did do or could have done given his or her knowledge at the time of the attacks,” he wrote.
Fox News was central to the launch and perpetuation of false information that led to the establishment of the Benghazi Select Committee. By May 2, 2014 -- 20 months after the attack -- Fox had devoted 1,098 segments to Benghazi, with 97 percent of its congressional and administration interviews featuring Republicans. In fact, House Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) repeatedly used Fox News as a platform to push speculation and false claims about Benghazi. And Fox chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge bragged that Fox News helped spur the House investigation.
Right-wing media have repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories in order to scandalize the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attacks. Conservative media have claimed to have uncovered multiple “smoking gun[s]” proving that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration committed wrongdoing in responding to the attacks. By May 2, 2014, Fox had compared Benghazi to Iran-Contra, Watergate, and other controversial actions by the Nixon administration 120 times. And conservatives continue to promote the false claim that the Obama administration issued a “stand down” order to soldiers responding to the Benghazi attacks.
Right-wing media continue to fuel the Benghazi dumpster fire in an effort to hurt Hillary Clinton, and conservative Republicans seem all too happy to use the Benghazi Select Committee to investigate the right-wing media’s theories.
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As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.