National Security & Foreign Policy

Issues ››› National Security & Foreign Policy
  • Politico’s False Equivalency On Election Rigging

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Politico perpetuated a false equivalency between claims from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of a “rigged” election, which are grounded in conspiracy theories and right-wing myths, and worries from Democrats, including Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, that Russia is attempting to interfere with the election, which are based on recent precedent and intelligence.

    In a September 28 article claiming both Clinton and Trump are engaging in a “conspiracy theory” and “feed[ing] the rigged-election charge,” Politico explained that Trump and his allies have been “sounding the alarm since summer that the results in battleground states – from Ohio to Florida – will be fixed so he’ll lose.” The report went on to erroneously equate Trump’s claim with worries from Democrats, including Clinton, that Russia could be “‘attempting to influence the outcome of the election,’” writing:

    But Trump isn’t the only one who warns the election is being tampered with.

    Clinton’s campaign contends that the Republican’s shadowy connections to Russia may be tied to the slow release of hacked emails meant to embarrass the Democrat to the point that she loses in November. While Obama said in an NBC interview in July that “anything’s possible” when it comes to Russia’s attempts to influence the presidential election, the U.S. government still hasn’t officially named a culprit in the hackings.

    “It’s a fascinating question, and an important question, and an alarming question when the Russian government appears to be attempting to influence the outcome of the election,” Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin said in a recent interview.

    At an August 1 rally, Trump baselessly asserted that he’s “afraid the election’s going to be rigged.” Trump went on to double down on his claim, adding that without voter ID laws, people “are going to vote 10 times.” Trump was widely denounced by journalists for his claims. The New York Times editorial board called his comments “not just ludicrous, but dangerous.” And Talking Points Memo editor John Marshall wrote that Trump used “this canard to lay the groundwork for rejecting the result of a national election.”

    Trump’s claims are grounded in conspiracy theories and misinformation. Trump ally and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones asserted on August 1 that Clinton “stole the primary” and is “going to try to steal the general election.” Fellow conspiracy theorist and Trump ally Roger Stone urged Trump to raise the issue of a “rigged” election on the July 29 edition of The Milo Yiannopoulos Show, saying, “I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly.” Fox News hosts and contributors helped mainstream these conspiracy theories, arguing that talking about the possibility of rigged elections is “an important discussion to have going into the election.”

    Trump’s claims are linked to conservative myths used to push for discriminatory voter ID laws. Right-wing media have repeatedly pushed myths about in-person voter fraud, arguing that denying voter fraud exists “is to frankly deny reality.” Academic studies, however, have found that “voter fraud is vanishingly rare” and that voter ID laws largely disenfranchise minority voters.

    Concerns that Democrats, including Clinton, have raised about Russian interference in the election, however, are grounded in recent precedent and government intelligence. The New York Times reported that intelligence officials “have ‘high confidence’ that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee” this summer. Russia is also suspected of having hacked into the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s computer system.

    The FBI also said there is evidence that Russian hackers “targeted voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona.” In addition, on September 22, the Democratic ranking members on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees warned, “Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the US election.” Given Trump’s reported ties to Russia, including the connections of some of his current and former senior campaign staff, the idea that Russia would want to sway the election is not unrealistic.

    Politico’s false equivalence of these two accusations is made more incredulous by the article’s acknowledgment that “Clinton and many other election watchers are not flying blind in making this allegation” about Russian interference, and the article detailed some of the evidence behind the concern.

    But this is hardly the first time media outlets have applied false equivalency during this election. For example, numerous reports claimed that Trump and Clinton were “exchang[ing] racially charged attacks” after Trump claimed that Clinton is a “bigot.” But Trump’s remarks consisted only of outlandish, evidence-free insults while Clinton reasonably and accurately described Trump’s racist rhetoric and very real ties to white nationalists and the "alt-right."

    False equivalency is a dangerous practice journalists use to give both sides equal weight, even when there is a clear right and wrong. By perpetuating in this false dichotomy, media outlets are doing disservice to their audiences.

  • Near Absence Of Trump Campaign’s Latest Russia Problem From Sunday Shows Follows A Familiar Pattern

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    CNN’s Jake Tapper was the only Sunday show host on September 25 to discuss a report that American intelligence officials are probing Russian government ties to a man Trump has identified as a foreign policy adviser, Carter Page. This latest revelation is yet another missed opportunity by the Sunday political talk shows to feature investigative stories about Trump and his campaign over the past month.

    On September 23, Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reported that “U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials.” Among the problematic contacts Page has reportedly had with aides to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is Igor Diveykin, who “is believed by U.S. officials to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election.” The article also quoted a Trump spokesperson calling Page an “‘informal foreign adviser’” to Trump.

    In an interview with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway on CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper cited the Yahoo! News article and questioned Conway if the campaign had talked to Page about his meetings with Russian officials. Conway denied that Page was part of the Trump campaign at this time and said that he was not authorized to talk to Russia on the campaign’s behalf.

    The other Sunday hosts -- NBC’s Chuck Todd, CBS’ John Dickerson, Fox’s Chris Wallace, and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos -- who interviewed Trump adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, and Conway, respectively -- all failed to question their Trump surrogate guests about the report. The only other mentions of the report on the Sunday shows were from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s surrogates, with Clinton running mate Tim Kaine alluding to the “news of this past week [that] shows us a whole series of very serious questions about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia” on CBS’ Face the Nation, and Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon mentioning Page on CNN’s Reliable Sources.

    The near blackout of this story from the Sunday shows is turning into a familiar pattern regarding investigative reports on Trump. Over the past month, the Sunday political talk shows have repeatedly failed to feature new reporting that reflects poorly on Trump. On September 4, just days after The Washington Post broke the story that Trump’s foundation illegally gave a political donation in 2013 and that Trump paid the IRS a penalty for it, only CBS’ Dickerson brought it up; on other shows, guests were forced to mention it. The next week, as they were all covering the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, every Sunday show completely ignored the New York Daily News’ investigation that revealed Trump unethically accepted $150,000 in government aid after the attacks and that Trump bragged that one of his buildings was now the largest in the area just hours after the 9/11 attacks. And just last week, the Sunday shows again mostly omitted new reporting on Trump, specifically the news that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was investigating Trump’s charitable foundation over concerns of impropriety and Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek report that detailed the “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” that would be present in the foreign policy of a President Trump due to his deep business ties to foreign countries and businesspeople.

    The report on Page also follows Trump’s repeated praise of Putin, who he has called “highly respected within his own country and beyond,” later adding that if Putin “says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” Journalists have slammed Trump for his remarks, noting the country has targeted and murdered journalists.

  • Right-Wing Media Falsely Claim Clinton Is Adopting Trump’s Position On Refugee Vetting

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Conservative media claimed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was adopting rival Republican nominee Donald Trump’s stance on how to handle refugees and immigrants after she called for “tough vetting” following a series of recent terror attacks. However, Clinton has been consistent in calling for “rigorous” and “thorough” vetting, while also arguing that “we cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and our humanitarian obligations.” 

  • After Terror Attacks, Fox News Brings On Anti-Muslim Fearmongers To Push Lies And Anti-Refugee Rhetoric

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Fox News is providing a platform for conservatives to spread misinformation about refugees and stoke anti-Muslim fears following a series of apparent terror attacks around the country. Fox’s open-door policy for fearmongers is in keeping with the network’s disconcerting history as a source of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment after terror attacks at home and abroad.

    Authorities have arrested a suspect in the September 17 bomb explosions in Manhattan and Seaside Park, N.J.; a suspect was shot in a stabbing spree the same day in Saint Cloud, MN. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We have every reason to believe this was an act of terrorism,” referring to the two New York area bombings, and ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Minnesota mall attack.

    President Obama advised that “the press try to refrain from getting out ahead of the investigation” and warned against the dissemination of “false reports or incomplete information” -- a warning Fox News ignored as it hosted a series of guests who peddled anti-Muslim talking points and xenophobic rhetoric.

    During a segment that led off with Fox host Ainsley Earhardt asking, “Is the Somali refugee crisis now a terror crisis?” Fox contributor Pete Hegseth warned of the “incubation” of radical Islam in “radical mosques” in Minnesota, claiming that “the problem is that a lot of those communities have not assimilated the way we would want them to.” Hegseth then proclaimed that there “is a terrorist recruitment problem in Minnesota.” Hegseth regularly fearmongers on Fox’s airwaves about terror and the “concerns about integration” of Muslims.

    Jim Hanson, executive vice president of the anti-Muslim hate group Center for Security Policy, argued for heightened policing of Muslim communities because the New York attacker was “conducting jihad” and “saying Allahu Akbar.” Hanson also baselessly speculated that the Chelsea neighborhood of New York was targeted because it “is a prominently gay area” and claimed that “there’s a decent chance that this might have been another attempt to attack the gay community.” Hanson has regularly appeared on Fox to spread fears about Islam and terror. 

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared on Fox & Friends to fearmonger about refugees and immigration, claiming that President Obama’s policy of “letting people in by the thousands and tens of thousands” will lead to terror attacks “happen[ing] perhaps more and more all over the country.”

    Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a senior adviser to Trump and a Fox regular, exploited the attacks to call for surveilling the Muslim community, adding that it “is absolute nonsense” to say that going “into these communities” for that purpose is Islamophobic. Flynn suggested that heightened surveillance of Muslim communities doesn’t occur because of “political correctness” and that “political correctness kills. It will cause death.” Fox has a record of responding to terror attacks by pushing profiling and mosque surveillance, which have been found to be ineffective and, according to the ACLU, lead to stigma, interference with religious worship, fear, free speech violation, and damaged relationships with law enforcement.

    Conservative columnist and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich claimed that the government is letting refugees come “into the country unvetted from terrorism hotspots all over the world,” even though the United States has a rigorous and stringent vetting process for refugees and immigrants.

    Fox News consistently turns to fearmongering, anti-Muslim narratives after terror attacks, adopting racially charged rhetoric and recycling distorted lies about Muslims and refugees. Fox hosts and guests exploited the European refugee crisis and used the Paris terrorist attacks to stoke fears about admitting refugees into America; conservatives used Fox to advocate for profiling Muslim Americans following the San Bernardino, CA, shooting; and right-wing pundits twisted the Brussels attack to whip up anti-Muslim fears.

  • There Is No Evidence Terror Attacks Help Donald Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza is claiming that terror attacks like the weekend’s explosions in New York and New Jersey and stabbings in a Minnesota mall will benefit Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump because they are “external events [that] affirm his diagnosis of the current state of politics,” and thus his message “hits home” under those circumstances. But Cillizza presents no actual evidence of his claim, and polling following terror attacks in San Bernardino, CA; Paris, France; Orlando, FL; and Nice, France undermine his claims.

    Cillizza writes that Trump’s message is “politicians are failures,” and that “To get voters to sign onto that message and, more challengingly, that messenger, Trump needs external events to affirm his diagnosis of the current state of politics — that it is an utter failure and, not only that, but that the failures of politicians have made the average person less safe.” He concludes in his September 19 post:

    Most people — Democrats and Republicans — share Trump's alienation from politics and politicians. They are convinced, as Trump is, that politics is broken, and none of the people in office right now have any idea how to fix it. Given that, when they turn on the news and are presented with the chaos we have seen over the past three days, the Trump message — "We have to make a change. No choice." — hits home in a way that it wouldn't if most people feel safe and secure.

    The most basic dynamic of this race is [Hillary] Clinton as safe, capable and status quo, and Trump as risky, unpredictable and change. The more chaos people see in the country and the world, the more they are willing to throw over Clinton's experience and swallow their doubts about Trump's readiness for office. He truly is the chaos candidate.

    Cillizza cites no polling data to support this contention; he is simply dressing up his gut opinion as savvy analysis. A review of actual data shows no evidence to back his suggestion that Trump does better than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton following unpredictable events such as terrorist attacks.

    Here's the RealClearPolitics poll average for the two weeks after the June 12 terrorist shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Trump’s support was static while Clinton’s increased:

    Here’s the poll average for the two weeks after the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino. Trump’s support fell slightly while Clinton’s increased by several points:

    The RealClearPolitics average showed almost no movement in the two weeks after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris:

    And while the average shows an increase in Trump’s support following the July 14 attacks in Nice, that period overlapped with the Republican National Convention:

    If Cillizza had consulted data, rather than trying to tell a story that validates his own opinions, he would have found that terror attacks are at worst a wash for Clinton and that they may actually improve her standing with voters.