2016 Elections

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  • CNN And Fox News’ Sunday Media Criticism Shows Note Ethical Issues With CNN’s Lewandowski Hire

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures on CNN’s Reliable Sources and Fox News’ MediaBuzz criticized CNN’s decision to hire Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Hosts and guests on the two media criticism programs highlighted the various “ethical” and “controversial” issues surrounding Lewandowski’s hiring, including Lewandowski’s history of aggressively handling the press and the ambiguity surrounding his possible non-disparagement agreements with Trump.

    On June 23, CNN hired Lewandowski as a salaried political commentator days after he had been fired as Trump’s campaign manager. CNN employees and other reporters immediately raised concerns over the various potential ethical problems associated with Lewandowski’s hiring.

    There are still several unknowns about Lewandowski's new position: whether he signed a non-disparagement agreement with Trump, which would preclude Lewandowski from criticizing his former boss; whether Lewandowski’s history of aggressive behavior toward journalists was taken into account during the hiring process; and whether an ongoing defamation suit against Trump and Lewandowski is a conflict of interest for CNN.

    CNN’s Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s media criticism program Reliable Sources, said on June 26 that Lewandowski is “the most controversial addition to CNN in several years,” noting that his “hostile” behavior toward reporters and the uncertainty regarding any non-disparagement agreements raise “ethical questions.”

    Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik shamed CNN on Reliable Sources for hiring a “weasel to tell you about” “what’s going on inside the Trump campaign,” and told CNN to “give your money back.”

    Fox News’ media critic Howard Kurtz also slammed CNN on his program MediaBuzz, calling the decision a “sad move” that doesn’t help “CNN’s credibility in covering Donald Trump.” Kurtz specifically noted Lewandowski’s non-disclosure agreement and “rough relations with some reporters.”

    CNN’s own staff have heavily criticized Lewandowski for his “inexcusable” and “unprofessional” behavior. Media Matters has noted, though, that Lewandowski’s hire is at odds with how the network has responded to previous attacks on employees: in February, Trump ally Roger Stone was banned from the network after he wrote a series of offensive, incendiary tweets attacking CNN media figures.

  • The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

    Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

    As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” -- or, as others have noted, outrageous insults -- within hours of being lauded as “presidential.” 

    In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

    In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech -- devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter -- that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

    Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitali wrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

    CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

    “It's kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we're not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We're not talking about something controversial. We're talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

    GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

    The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

    Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

    But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

    Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

    The "pivot" narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko. 

  • Amid Economic Turmoil, Right-Wing Media Spin Brexit As Good For Trump

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & NINA MAST

    Right-wing media are reacting to the U.K. referendum to leave the European Union -- commonly referred to as Brexit -- by labeling the result a “very, very ominous sign for Democrats in the United States,” saying Donald Trump “looked like a genius” for saying the U.K. should leave the European Union, and claiming that “Hillary [Clinton] lost and Trump won.” Meanwhile, mainstream media warn of economic ramifications from the vote.

  • Wash. Post’s Wemple Highlights Yet Another Conflict Of Interest In CNN’s Hiring Of Trump’s Former Campaign Manager

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple highlighted that, among the various ethical concerns with CNN’s hiring of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, an ongoing defamation lawsuit involving Trump and Lewandowski could pose “another conflict of interest” for CNN’s new hire. Wemple wrote that Lewandowski’s hiring has “reduced” CNN to a “pitiful reality” in which they must warn viewers “that everything they’re about to hear is fatally compromised.”

    On June 23, CNN hired Lewandowski as a “salaried” political commentator days after he had been fired as Trump’s campaign manager. CNN employees and other reporters immediately raised concerns both over potential ethical problems associated with Lewandowski’s hiring and the way Lewandowski has aggressively handled the press in the past.

    Wemple noted possible conflicts of interest in a June 24 Washington Post article writing that an ongoing defamation suit against Trump and Lewandowski by a Republican consultant could be another “possible [source] of taint” for CNN’s arrangement. Wemple highlighted questions which have arisen about whether Trump is “footing the bill” for the both of them, noting how the “entanglement could inhibit Lewandowski’s umpirely duty” to provide analysis about Trump. Wemple added that this concern, among several others, is forcing other CNN employees interviewing Lewandowski “to gore an interviewee not to bring accountability to a campaign, but rather to properly warn CNN viewers that everything they’re about to hear is fatally compromised.” Wemple ultimately wrote that “Trump is dragging down a network’s standards before viewers’ very eyes”:

    In his first appearance as a CNN contributor, former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski showed an unsurprising reverence for his ex-boss. Appearing last night with host Erin Burnett, Lewandowski was careful to refer to “Mr. Trump,” the proper honorific for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. He leveled no criticisms of the candidate. And he said this, too: “I am fully committed in my private time with my family and my friends and telling everybody that I know that Donald Trump is the only person that is going to save this country for my children and hopefully their children someday.”

    [...]

    The hiring of Lewandowski, accordingly, has reduced CNN to this pitiful reality: A true journalist like Burnett is forced to gore an interviewee not to bring accountability to a campaign, but rather to properly warn CNN viewers that everything they’re about to hear is fatally compromised. Trump is dragging down a network’s standards before viewers’ very eyes.

    Yet there are other possible sources of taint for Lewandowski and his former boss. These two fellows worked together on a presidential campaign for a year, gathering some enemies along the way. One of them is Cheri Jacobus, a Republican consultant and PR adviser.

    [...]

    A defamation suit filed by Jacobus in New York County claims that those representations are false. It was the Trump camp, contends Jacobus’s complaint, that wooed her. She’s seeking $4 million in damages, just for starters.

    Why mention this suit in the context of Lewandowski’s work for CNN? Because both he and Trump are named as defendants in the civil action. And according to court documents, a single law firm — LaRocca Hornik Rosen Greenberg & Blaha — is representing both of these men. Defending a defamation suit can cost significant sums. This blog has asked the Trump campaign as well as Lewandowski how the pay arrangements are proceeding. Is Trump footing the bill? Is Lewandowski? Have there been any changes in how the costs are handled since Lewandowski left the campaign?

    Inquiries to Lewandowski, the Trump campaign, CNN and the law firm haven’t yet fetched a single response.

    Little extrapolation is required to appreciate how this entanglement could inhibit Lewandowski’s umpirely duty to call balls and strikes on CNN. If Trump is paying for legal representation, for instance, why would Lewandowski call a bunch of balls and imperil the arrangement?

    Those considerations stand apart, of course, from another set of considerations: That Lewandowski, with a big assist from his boss, slimed someone who dared to criticize Trump — and comes away with the reward of a CNN contributor gig.

  • What We Do And Don't Know About CNN's Corey Lewandowski Ethics Nightmare

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Corey Lewandowski

    Yesterday, CNN announced that it had hired Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager of Donald Trump’s campaign who was fired on Monday. Based on what we already know, the hire presents an ethical nightmare for CNN. But there are still many unanswered questions about the hire that could make things worse.

    Lewandowski was known during his tenure with the campaign as Trump’s anti-press enforcer, drawing criticism for physical altercations with at least two reporters (one of whom worked for CNN) as well as reportedly making “unwanted romantic advances” and “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists.”

    Here’s what we know -- and don’t know -- about the Lewandowski hire:

    We know:

    Lewandowski has a non-disclosure agreement. During Lewandowski’s first appearance on CNN as a contributor, host Erin Burnett asked him if he had signed a nondisclosure agreement when he worked for the Trump campaign. He replied that he had.

    He won’t say if he has a non-disparagement agreement. Burnett also noted that CNN had previously obtained a copy of the agreement that Trump campaign staff signed and that it included language stating that “during the term of your service and at all times thereafter, you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly the company, Mr. Trump, any Trump company, any family member or any family member company.” Lewandowski refused to directly answer Burnett’s question as to whether his agreement included such a clause.

    At least one outlet decided not to make an offer to Lewandowski over ethical concerns. CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that according to a source at MSNBC, the network’s executives had also met with Lewandowski to discuss hiring him as a contributor but ultimately decided against making an offer, “mainly due to ethical concerns.”

    Journalists across the political spectrum hate this hire. After Politico broke the news, reporters and pundits from the left, right, and center condemned CNN for hiring Lewandowski. They highlighted his past history with journalists, particularly female ones, and questioned the ethics of the hire.

    Including at CNN. Stelter reported that Lewandowski’s hiring was “highly controversial, even within the newsroom, in part because he has a reputation for being hostile toward journalists.” Politico’s Hadas Gold similarly reported, “Some CNN staffers were privately grumbling on Thursday about Lewandowski's hiring, especially in light of how he has treated journalists.” The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove reported that CNN staffers are “furious with” CNN president Jeff Zucker.

    Media critics agree. In the words of former CNN bureau chief Frank Sesno, who now directs George Washington University’s media and public affairs department, “Lewandowski’s credibility becomes CNN’s credibility. If he peddles talking points and lies, then CNN will be peddling talking points and lies—to their own peril.”

    We don’t know:

    Whether Lewandowski actually has a non-disparagement agreement. Can Lewandowski criticize Trump, his family members, or his company without violating the terms of his contract with the presumptive GOP nominee? Based on Lewandowski’s responses to questions about the campaign, it sure seems like the answer is no. But we don’t know for sure.

    Whether CNN knows if Lewandowski has a non-disparagement agreement. It seems unbelievable that CNN’s executives would have hired Lewandowski without knowing the terms of his contract with the Trump campaign. But if they do know about it, they haven’t passed that information on to their reporters, who have been forced to ask Lewandowski about it and watch him evade the question.

    Whether CNN’s executives considered Lewandowski’s behavior toward journalists, particularly women, in the hiring process. Does the network care that the person they have hired to do commentary reportedly physically pushed one of their own producers when he tried to ask Trump a question? Did they take into account his reported behavior with female journalists when they were considering hiring him? As Michelle Fields, who was manhandled by Lewandowski, put it, “My heart goes out to all his new female coworkers who will have to deal with him daily. I imagine CNN HR will be busy this year.”

    What role Trump played in Lewandowski’s hiring. A Deadline source claims that “Trump was involved in brokering the deal” between Lewandowski and CNN. The network previously hired Jeffrey Lord as a contributor on Trump’s recommendation, Lord said.

    Who is paying for the lawsuit against Trump and Lewandowski. GOP operative Cheri Jacobus is currently suing Trump and Lewandowski together in a $4 million defamation suit. If Trump is funding the defense in whole, that would represent a massive conflict of interest for Lewandowski.

    What Lewandowski offers CNN that its current Trump backers don’t. CNN already employs two commentators who were hired specifically because they support Trump: Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany. If Lewandowski can’t tell CNN’s audience what he saw while running Trump’s campaign, and can’t provide candid criticism of the candidate without violating a contract, what does he offer the network other than another voice pushing canned talking points?