The Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel: Fact-Checking By Moderators At The Presidential Debates Is "Vital"
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The 2016 presidential debates will kick off on September 26, giving voters one of their last chances to judge the candidates on the substance and breadth of their policy proposals. With over 100 million people expected to watch, the stakes could not be higher. Voters are mere months away from selecting the person who will become the president of the United States and whose actions will have an immense impact on their everyday lives. Informing this decision is a responsibility that media cannot afford to take lightly.
Sunday morning political news programs neglected two major news stories that raise ethical questions about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s family charity and his business interests, including reports that Trump’s charitable foundation is under investigation by the New York Attorney General and the conflicts of interest the Trump Organization would raise in a Trump presidency.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a September 13 CNN interview that his office is investigating Trump’s charitable foundation over concerns that it “engaged in some impropriety” as related to New York charity laws. The investigation launched amid reports from The Washington Post that Trump spent money from his charity on items meant to benefit himself, such as a $20,000 oil painting of himself and a $12,000 autographed football helmet, and also recycled others’ contributions “to make them appear to have come from him” although he “hasn’t given to the foundation since 2008.”
In Newsweek’s September 23 cover story, Kurt Eichenwald reported that Trump’s business interests “will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” if Trump wins the presidency and does not sever all connections to the Trump Organization. The Trump Organization, Eichenwald reported, has been “largely ignored” by media, yet would cause “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” in nearly all foreign policy decisions a president Trump would make. Eichenwald’s report explains that the Trump Organization’s enterprise includes “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals,” and “reveals a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled” which could conflict with major national security decisions and negotiations required by the presidential elect.
Yet none of the Sunday morning political news shows dedicated substantial coverage to either report on September 18.
NBC’s Meet The Press briefly alluded to reports that the Trump Organization could pose conflicts of interest without mentioning the Newsweek report directly. Host Chuck Todd asked Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway whether Trump would offer an “explanation of how he will wall off his business so that there are not even illusions or any sort of cloud that would hang over foreign policy decisions and his international business dealings.”
But ABC’s This Week, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday, and CBS’ Face the Nation all completely ignored the stories about Trump’s foundation and business empire, even though each featured interviews with Trump surrogates who could have been asked about them. Meet the Press did not reference Trump’s foundation.
Journalists have been criticized for the “double standard” in the ways they cover Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month, cable news programs devoted 13 times more coverage to Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis as The Washington Post’s reporting about the Trump Foundation. This week, both the Trump Foundation and Trump Organization stories were given short shrift by the broadcast news programs in favor of coverage of Donald Trump’s Dr. Oz stunt.
Media Matters conducted a SnapStream search for any coverage of both reports on Sunday morning political news shows including: ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face The Nation, NBC’s Meet The Press, Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union. The search was conducted using search terms “Newsweek,” “Eichenwald,” “Trump Organization,” “Fahrenthold,” “Trump Foundation,” “Trump Charity,” and “Charity.”
Donald Trump’s campaign released a statement claiming Trump now admits President Obama was born in the United States, and “was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion” in 2011. In fact, Trump has pushed racist birther attacks on President Obama after 2011, and campaign surrogates have repeatedly defended his birtherism in the media.
Unlike ABC and Fox, Cosmopolitan Challenged Ivanka Trump On The Intricacies Of Her Father’s Child Care Plan
After appearing alongside her father, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, while he announced his child care plan on September 13, Ivanka Trump sat for several interviews, including with ABC’s Good Morning America, Fox News’ The Kelly File and Fox & Friends, and Cosmopolitan magazine. But only Cosmopolitan successfully asked important follow-up questions and challenged Trump on the apparent inconsistencies and inadequacies of her father’s plan.
Ivanka Trump has become an important surrogate for her father, often stepping in to sanitize his outrageous remarks, particularly those about women. When critics pointed out the GOP nominee’s misogyny, Ivanka described him as a “fighter” for women and an “equal opportunity offender,” and after her father offered a victim-blaming defense of former Fox CEO Roger Ailes, who was ousted from Fox following a sexual harassment lawsuit, she went on Fox to claim that the Trump Organization has “a very strong HR team … who is equipped to deal with these issues if they arise.” As The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum explained, Trump has chosen to “deodorize the stink of her father’s misogyny, to suggest that because he loves her that means he loves women -- to erase the actual policies he supports.”
This was the role ABC and Fox allowed Ivanka Trump to play.
Donald Trump’s child care plan lacks details on how it would be funded, and while Fox’s Megyn Kelly and Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt asked Ivanka about the fiscal aspects of the plan, they settled for her answer that everything would be clarified in her father’s September 15 economic speech. Both Fox interviews were fawning, with Kelly marveling at Trump’s (millionaire) working-mother status -- “I don’t know how you do it” -- and Earhardt focusing part of the 10-minute interview on Trump’s relationship with her father: “Tell me some stories. What’s he like? And what do the kids call him?” Kelly also let Trump get away with the lie that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton does not have a child care policy on her website.
ABC’s Amy Robach did question Trump on why her father’s plan excludes paternity leave, and she clarified that Clinton does have a child care plan on her website. But she also allowed Ivanka to push her talking points unchallenged and say the Trump Organization offers paid maternity leave and adoption leave for all of its employees, a claim that Trump employees are now challenging.
It was Cosmopolitan’s Prachi Gupta who successfully challenged Trump by questioning specifics of her father’s plan, like the fact that it doesn’t include same-sex parents when both of the partners are men. She also brought up (and readily provided the source for) Donald Trump’s 2004 statement that pregnancy is inconvenient for business. Gupta thoroughly questioned the financial feasibility of Trump’s child care plan by pointing out that the Republican candidate has promised both tax cuts and increases in infrastructure spending, while also saying he wants to build a border wall. Politico and Vox reported on Ivanka’s interview with Cosmopolitan, noting that she accused “the writer of ‘editorializing’ and instilling ‘hostility’” in her questions and pointing out that she got “combative” after being challenged.
Nussbaum’s article about Ivanka’s speech at the July Republican National Convention highlighted that Ivanka has “stepped forward to blind female voters to who her father is and what he stands for.” Gupta defied this spin, and her Cosmopolitan interview got in Ivanka’s way as she tried to sanitize her father’s record, while exemplifying that women’s magazines and websites have been an undervalued asset in political coverage.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared on The Dr. Oz Show to discuss, among other things, his child care policy proposals. Trump noted that “there are a lot of men involved” in child care and that “under the plan we’re doing they will be helped so much,” yet Trump’s child care plan explicitly excludes fathers from access to parental leave. Oz did not point that out.
Trump’s child care proposal includes a plan for six weeks of maternity leave for new mothers paid through unemployment insurance. By specifying “maternity leave,” as The Associated Press reported, Trump’s “leave program would not apply to working fathers.” ThinkProgress economic policy editor Bryce Covert also noted that Trump’s plan would exclude not only working fathers, but “potentially all adoptive parents” and countless LGBT parents. Trump’s failure to include fathers in his child care proposals is one of several shortfalls journalists should be aware of when reporting on Trump’s plan. From the September 15 edition of ABC’s The Dr. Oz Show:
DONALD TRUMP: In the case of Ivanka, the child care thing has been so important to her for so long, she used to say, “I don’t know who people do it.” Last night -- just one story quick -- we met with about 20 mothers and a couple of gentlemen, too, by the way, who are also, you know, there is a lot of men involved in this that are getting absolutely --
DR. MEHMET OZ (HOST): Mister Moms.
TRUMP: -- they are getting hurt so badly. But, we met with these 20 people, they were incredible people, and they had just unbelievable and sad, very sad stories to tell. And, I got a very heavy dose of what's going on. And, I will tell you, under the plan we're doing they will be helped so much. And Ivanka was always saying, "Dad, we've got to do something about child care. It's just so unfair." And we really talked with those people last night how tough it is.
IVANKA TRUMP: And most people don’t realize that it’s the single-largest household expense in much of this country, even exceeding the cost of housing.
Generally Strong Coverage Of Census Data Shows TV News Outlets Can Still Cover The Economy Well When They Try
The major broadcast evening news programs each provided great examples of how network news can still be a source of concise and informative coverage on the economy this week when they covered new data releases from the Census Bureau.
On September 13, the U.S. Census Bureau released annual updates to its ongoing reports on income and poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States. The reports revealed stunning positive news about the state of the American economy: a record-setting 5.2 percent increase in median household income from 2014 to 2015, median income at its highest point since before the Great Recession, a drop in the official poverty rate of 1.2 percentage points, more than 3.5 million Americans lifted out of poverty, a 1.3 percentage point drop in the uninsured rate, and roughly 4 million fewer uninsured Americans. In response to the data, Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) noted that 2015 marked just the second year since 1988 “that brought simultaneous progress on poverty, median income, and health insurance.”
Print and online coverage of the Census data was overwhelmingly positive, with CNNMoney writer Tami Luhby and Washington Post contributor Paul Waldman both noting that the data undermine a key (albeit, “false”) talking point frequently used by Republicans: that there has been wage stagnation, and President Obama is to blame.
Just as importantly, the positive coverage continued during the September 13 editions of major nightly broadcast news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, which collectively draw more than 20 million daily viewers. Only ABC failed to note all three of the key Census data findings -- the increase in median income, the drop in poverty, and the drop in the uninsured rate -- during its reporting.
As is often the case, PBS NewsHour offered the most in-depth and detailed discussion of the Census reports. Correspondent Lisa Desjardins spent just under three minutes detailing the data and discussing its possible political ramifications and effect on the upcoming election. The segment even included some cautionary notes, including reasons that some Americans have not seen a boost in take-home pay despite the surge in median earnings and some potential problems faced by customers on the private insurance market.
Next in terms of quality of coverage were CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, both of which discussed all of the key takeaways from the data. CBS anchor Scott Pelley said the Census reports were “great news” and stood as proof that “more Americans are cashing in on the recovery.” NBC anchor Lester Holt added that “middle class incomes had their fastest rate of growth ever recorded” and “incomes increased across all racial groups.”
ABC’s World News spent the least amount of time on the topic, mentioning the Census data as just part of a discussion about the stock market, but anchor David Muir still noted that the 5.2 percent median income increase was “the largest rise in nearly 50 years.”
The individual segments might not seem like cause for celebration, but, according to recent Media Matters analyses of broadcast news coverage, each segment should serve as an example of how these programs can adequately discuss the economy.
Overall coverage of the economy fell considerably from the first to second quarter of 2016, as the major networks focused more of their limited time on horse-race political coverage detached from the economic issues that actually drive voter behavior. Coverage of economic inequality and poverty also decreased from the first to second quarter of the year overall -- only ABC and CBS focused more attention on those crucial subjects from April through June than they had in the first three months of the year:
Unfortunately, throughout the first half of the year, major news outlets have been focusing less and less attention on the economy, creating a void that can easily be filled with misinformation. As broadcast and cable outlets retreated from covering the economy, misleading and biased stories emanating from Fox News and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accounted for a higher proportion of coverage.
Broadcast evening news shows face considerable challenges in trimming segments down to fit abbreviated commercial schedules, but their coverage on September 13 demonstrated that the flagship programs can still balance brevity and substance when they try.
Media Turned Away From Covering Damaging Reports About Trump’s Foundation And Business Entanglements
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump successfully deflected media’s attention away from damaging investigative reports about his foreign business practices and his charitable foundation by fashioning a publicity stunt out of an appearance on The Dr. Oz Show.
On September 14, broadcast morning shows, including NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning spent 14 minutes and 55 seconds on new developments surrounding possible illegal activity from the Trump Foundation. This reporting came the day after New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office is investigating the Trump Foundation “to make sure it’s complying with the laws governing charities in New York.” Schneiderman’s investigation comes amid a series of reports from The Washington Post that examined how the foundation “collects and spends money in a very unusual manner.” Reporter David Fahrenthold found that, unlike with most personal foundations, “The Trump Foundation’s money doesn’t actually come from Trump’s own pocket.” In a September 14 report, Fahrenthold wrote that Trump “may have violated IRS rules against ‘self-dealing,’ which prohibit nonprofit leaders from spending charity money on themselves” when he spent $20,000 from his charity to buy a portrait of himself in 2007.
The broadcast morning shows also devoted some time, albeit only 46 seconds, to a September 14 Newsweek report that detailed how Trump’s business entanglements have often intersected with unfriendly foreign governments. Reporter Kurt Eichenwald explained his piece on CNN, saying that “there has never been a president in the history of the United States who has had these kinds of conflicts of interest.” He added that Trump’s entanglements “often go directly against the interests of American national security.”
But news outlets virtually ignored the damaging reports once Trump appeared for a September 14 taping of The Dr. Oz Show in which the “scientifically dubious” Dr. Mehmet Oz examined the results of the Republican nominee’s latest physical. The broadcast nightly news programs, including ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC’s Nightly News, and CBS’ Evening News, spent 7 minutes and 11 seconds on Trump’s publicity stunt. It caused the programs to cast aside the investigative reports, spending only 2minutes and 15 seconds on the reports about the Trump Foundation and 43 seconds on Eichenwald’s look into Trump’s foreign business entanglements.
On September 15, the broadcast morning news programs all but forgot the reports, instead obsessing over Trump’s appearance with Dr. Oz, which garnered 12 minutes and 5 seconds of coverage between all three shows. Only Today continued to discuss the series of questions raised about the Trump Foundation, spending 2minutes and 48 seconds on the topic. However, that is less than half the time they spent on Trump’s Dr. Oz Show appearance, which accounted for 6 minutes and 30 seconds of airtime.
By brushing aside the damaging investigative reporting about Trump in order to cover his gimmick with Dr. Oz, the broadcast news shows played right into the candidate’s hands. As CNN media critic Brian Stelter pointed out, Trump’s appearance on Oz’s show “wasn’t actual transparency” about his health -- “it was the appearance, the semblance of transparency.” Stelter added that it “shows Trump’s style, his media savvy” and noted that “we should know this was for show, and it was very effective.”
Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of Trump from the September 14 and 15 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, and CBS This Morning as well as the September 14 editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC’s Nightly News, and CBS’ Evening News and coded segments relating to new details surrounding Trump’s foundation, the Newsweek report on Trump’s business entanglements, and his appearance on Dr. Oz.
CBS And NBC Devote Segments To The Breaking News Story
While broadcast news programs on NBC and CBS covered reports that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating whether Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s charitable foundation complied with laws governing charities in New York, ABC’s World News Tonight failed to report on the development.
On September 14, Schneiderman told CNN his office is investigating The Donald J. Trump Foundation over concerns that the charity may have “engaged in some impropriety” regarding New York state non-profit regulations.
Reports of the Attorney General’s investigation followed a series of reports by The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold that stated Trump’s charity appeared “to have repeatedly broken IRS rules,” contained little of Trump’s own money, and occasionally purchased things “that seemed to benefit only Trump.” Fahrenthold also reported that Trump’s charity had been “retooled” to “spend other people’s money” on things such as a $20,000 portrait of Trump and a $12,000 autographed football helmet, therefore allowing “a rich man to be philanthropic for free.”
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Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of ABC’s The Dr. Oz Show, hosted Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to purportedly discuss the results of a recent physical exam and go through “a full review of [Trump’s] systems.” Media organizations should be aware that Oz is infamous for “dubious medical advice” unsupported by evidence, that he has promoted discredited “ex-gay” therapy, and that he is a registered Republican who “donated handsomely” to GOP candidates.
Media across the spectrum are claiming that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s diagnosis of pneumonia “vindicated” conservative conspiracy theorists who have long made baseless assertions about Clinton’s health. These claims have recently been mainstreamed by non-partisan outlets despite having been debunked time and time again.
PBS Sets Itself Apart From Broadcast Outlets On Inequality And Poverty, Fox News Remains Major Source Of Misleading Coverage
In the second quarter of 2016, prime-time and evening weekday news programs on the largest broadcast and cable outlets dedicated significantly less time to economic inequality and poverty than they had in the first quarter of the year. The weekday drop-off was led by CNN and MSNBC, which dramatically reduced their programming on inequality. PBS remained the gold standard among broadcast outlets in terms of covering inequality and poverty, while Fox News remained a prevalent source of misinformation on the same topics.
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