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  • Media Matters’ Do’s And Don’ts For Moderators And Media Covering The 2016 Presidential Debates

    ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    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.

  • During Interview With Donald Trump, O'Reilly Ignores Ailes’ Role In Debate Preparation

    O'Reilly Attacks Debate Moderators Cooper And Raddatz As "Partisan People;" Praises Fox's Wallace As "Fair"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET


    While speaking to Donald Trump about upcoming presidential debates, Bill O’Reilly did not ask Trump about reports that former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes is helping Trump’s campaign with debate preparations.

    Over the course of an interview spanning more than 7 minutes, O’Reilly did not bring up the widely reported claim that Roger Ailes “is advising Donald J. Trump as he begins to prepare for the all-important presidential debates this fall.” Instead, O’Reilly urged Trump to attack upcoming debate moderators Lester Holt, Anderson Cooper, and Martha Raddatz, who he characterized as “kind of partisan people,” and prompted Trump to praise Fox host and debate moderator Chris Wallace:

    BILL O'REILLY (HOST): You have two kind of partisan people though. The next debate you have Martha Raddatz at ABC, who I worked with in Boston. Brilliant journalist, but she is a Democrat. And then Anderson Cooper, I think he does a decent job over there but he is a Democrat, OK? So, you have two Democrats, and you don't -- are you showing up for that, or what are you going to do?

    DONALD TRUMP: And by the way, Lester is a Democrat.

    O'REILLY: I didn't know that.

    TRUMP: Look, it's a phony system. Lester is a Democrat. I mean, they are all Democrats. Okay? It's a very unfair system. I -- look, I've worked pretty well within the system. I guess by a lot of polls I'm leading many of the polls, and most of the polls -- CNN just came out with a poll I'm leading nationwide by two. I'm leading a lot of the states. I'm leading Florida where I am now by three or four. Something just came out. A poll just came out. I'm leading it by three points or four points. And, you know, I think I'm doing well. Leading Ohio, leading in North Carolina. I think we are doing very well.

    O'REILLY: Alright, but after the debate things will change and you will see.

    TRUMP: And the system's a guest --

    O'REILLY: Raddatz and Cooper, you OK with them, or no?

    TRUMP: No, not really. I'm not okay with Anderson Cooper because I think he treats me very unfairly at CNN. I think he is very unfair on CNN. I think CNN, they call it the Clinton News Network that's why the ratings aren't doing very well.

    O'REILLY: Well, they have to compete with MSNBC, that's why they may be doing that. But you say you are not happy with it, but you will show up, you are not going to boycott it like you did the Fox thing.

    TRUMP: No, I will show up. I will show up, they're gaming the ref, that's what they are doing.

    O'REILLY: Right, and the last one is Chris Wallace. He is fair, right?

    TRUMP: He is fair, he is tough. He is fair, and I don't mind as long as he is fair. And I have done a lot of work with Chris, and I have never had a problem with him.

    O’Reilly’s decision to avoid pressing Trump on Ailes’ debate preparation continues Fox’s trend of ignoring Ailes’ role within the Trump campaign. Fox’s Sunday shows have previously ignored reports that Roger Ailes is advising Trump, and Fox News’ Brit Hume recently neglected to ask Trump adviser Newt Gingrich about Ailes’ role in debate preparations.

  • La Opinión Highlights The Need For A Latino Presidential Debate Moderator

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In reporting on the moderators for the 2016 presidential debates, La Opinión pointed out that the selection for the “political show of the century” includes “zero Latinos” “despite immigrants and Mexicans in particular becoming a central theme of the campaign” and noted the ways a Latino moderator would have been “very positive” for both the Latino community and the debate.

    The September 7 article reported that “in the diverse panel of the five selected journalists there are women, an Asian[-American], an African-American … and zero Latinos” and highlighted the backlash this selection inspired among prominent Latinos in the media such as the president of Univision Randy Falco, who “sent a letter to the [Commission of Presidential Debates] indicating his ‘disappointment’ with the lack of Latinos.” The article highlighted Falco’s disapproval with the commission’s failure to take into account “demographic patterns and the important role that Latinos play in the economy and socially” and quoted others who underscored the significance of lifting up Latino journalists.

    This “disappointing” moderator selection comes after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump launched his most recent attempt to shield himself from scrutiny by conditioning the moderator selection with unfounded predictions of bias. Trump has been critical of Latinos for possible bias, citing his promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border as a reason that could compromise the neutrality a judge of Hispanic heritage. Translated from the September 7 article in La Opinión:

    There are some who say that it is not a relevant criterion in the selection of moderators for the important presidential debates, but the truth is that in the diverse panel of the five selected journalists there are women, an Asian, an African-American … and zero Latinos.

    In a little more than two weeks, the world will watch for the first time the presidential candidates Donald Trump and  Hillary Clinton face off on the same stage in the first of three presidential debates that are promising to become the “political show of the century.”

    Nonetheless, and despite immigrants and Mexicans in particular becoming a central theme of the campaign, mainly that of Republican [presidential nominee] Trump, none of the debates will be moderated by a journalist of Latino origin.

    [...]

    By that calculation, there are two women, one African-American (Holt is part Jamaican), and one Asian[-American]. [There are] [z]ero Latinos or Mexican blood or from any other place in Latin America.

    The decision was not taken generously by the president of Univision Randy Falco who sent a letter to the commission indicating his “disappointment” with the lack of Latinos in the debate panels. Falco pointed out in the letter that “taking into account the demographic patterns and the important role that Latinos play in the economy and socially in this nation.”

    Falco accused the commission of “abdicating its responsibility to represent the largest and most influential communities in the country.”

    [...]

    Stephen Nuño, associate professor of political science at Northern Arizona University, said that the presidential debates are something “very symbolic and important” in the electoral contest. “I think the most disappointing part is that it seems like the representation of minorities and women is not taken into account as one of the parameters.”

    [...]

    During the multiple debates that took place in the primaries, there were few Latinos asking questions, like José Diaz Balart, who represented Telemundo in its sister channel NBC’s debate and a debate organized by a Spanish-language network, Univision, of the democratic candidates, but not of Republicans.

    [Jorge] Ramos, of Univision, recently said that there are many Latino journalists on television that could have done the honors besides him, including his colleague María Elena Salinas, Díaz Balart, of Telemundo, Tom Llamas y Cecilia Vega of ABC or María Hinojosa of NPR.

  • Matt Lauer’s Fact-Challenged Moderation Is A Cautionary Tale For Debate Moderators

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Matt Lauer’s widely panned moderation of the NBC News Commander-In-Chief Forum, where he failed to fact-check Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s recurrent lie about opposing the Iraq War, shows precisely why it is paramount that moderators for the upcoming presidential debates correct misinformation and hold the candidates to an equal standard of truth-telling.

    Lauer, who moderated the Commander-In Chief Forum hosted by NBC News and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) on September 7, let Trump lie twice that he “was totally against the war in Iraq.” Trump’s claim has been proved false time and time again, and because of the audacity of the lie, the media roundly castigated Lauer's slip.

    With the first presidential debate looming, Lauer’s performance is a cautionary tale to the debate moderators, who will give voters one of the last chances to judge the candidates on the substance and breadth of their policy proposals.

    Fox’s Chris Wallace, tapped as the moderator for the final debate, already outrageously conceded that he will not fact-check candidates’ lies, stating, “I do not believe it’s my job to be a truth squad.” With his concession, it’s imperative that the other moderators step up to the challenge of fact-checking candidates, because letting falsehoods go unchallenged is a disservice to voters and a strain on journalistic integrity.

    Challenging mendacity in the presidential debates is paramount for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that Trump’s entire campaign has been grounded in lies and conspiracy theories. PolitiFact found that 71 percent of Trump’s claims are either “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” As Huffington Post senior media reporter Michael Calderone explained, failure to fact-check lies in the debates “leaves the viewing public with a ‘he said, she said’ situation when the journalist picked to be onstage could say, decisively, who is right.” This, in turn, enables misinformation -- an injustice to voters -- and normalizes this behavior -- a threat to democratic and journalistic processes. New York Times reporter Yamiche Alcindor unequivocally said that, moving forward, journalists and reporters have a duty to fact-check lies and inconsistencies:

    I think last night we saw Donald Trump say that he did not support the war in Iraq. Many people have fact-checked him and said that that's a false statement. BuzzFeed broke that big story saying here is him on Howard Stern saying that, that he does support the war. So I think being able to do that as journalists, we have to do that. Even if it's tenuous and we want to move on to the next question and we want to have multiple broad conversations, we have to stop and say, wait, you really need to answer this question.

    Another worry for debate moderators’ passivity in the face of lies is the growing concern that Trump is being “graded on a curve,” where so long as he doesn’t “vomit all over himself and [he gives] a decent” performance, he’ll succeed. Failing to fact-check Trump’s lies during a debate will feed into the growing media tendency to lower the bar for Trump compared to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

    As CNN’s John Berman said, “If the bar for Donald Trump is not embarrassing himself, what does that mean heading into the debates?”

    Given that Trump’s accusations of media bias have already seemingly influenced the debate moderator selections, Lauer’s performance will hopefully encourage Lester Holt, Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper, and Chris Wallace to strengthen their fact-checking skills and harden their resolve to ensure the presidential debates are grounded in truth and reality.

  • Trump’s Efforts To Influence Debate Moderator Selection Seem To Have Paid Off

    Moderator Selections Don’t Include A Latino Journalist, But Do Include Someone From Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LOPEZ

    Donald Trump’s accusations of media bias seem to have paid off as the Commission on Presidential Debates moderator selections for the 2016 presidential debates will include a moderator from Fox News for the first time, but will notably lack Latino representation. Trump had previously warned that he would object to moderators that he considered unfair, and given the selections, it seems that the Republican presidential nominee got his way.

    CNN reported on September 2 that the commission has chosen NBC’s Lester Holt, ABC’s Martha Raddatz, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Fox News’ Chris Wallace to be moderators in the three presidential debates, while CBS News’ Elaine Quijano will moderate the debate between vice presidential candidates.

    It was previously reported that the commission was struggling to select moderators who wouldn’t be subjected to accusations of bias, a particular problem this election due to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s “aggressive attacks on the media and complaints about unfair treatment.” According to CNN’s Dylan Byers:

    The delay is due in part to an unprecedented challenge the bipartisan Commission faces in selecting individuals who are immune (or at least as immune as possible) to accusations of bias. While that is always a concern for the Commission, the sources said it is more challenging than ever this time around due to one factor: Donald Trump.

    The last thing the Commission wants is for the moderator to become part of the story about a debate. Yet Trump's aggressive attacks on the media and complaints about unfair treatment have effectively guaranteed that the moderators will come under scrutiny from conservatives.

    This has made the Commission even more cautious than usual in researching potential moderators, sources said. The Commission fears that Trump would use even the slightest whiff of a pro-Clinton bias to attack a moderator and undermine his or her credibility.

    With the commission taking into account Trump’s previously levied attacks, it’s not surprising that the commission didn’t include a Latino journalist in their selection of presidential debate moderators. After all, the candidate is on record saying he believes people with Hispanic heritage might not be objective when dealing with him because he has promised to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

    The exclusion of a Hispanic moderator comes as a loss for audiences who could’ve gotten the added perspective of someone with unique understanding of the second largest demographic in the country, a value Telemundo’s Maria Celeste Arrarás displayed when moderating the February 25 Republican presidential primary debate. Arrarás pressed the candidates on the nuances of issues that Latinos care most about, spotlighting the value of newsroom diversity.

    Trump had also previously hinted at who he thought would be acceptable and unacceptable as debate moderators, noting “he would ‘object to moderators who he considered to be ‘unfair.’” While discussing possible debate moderators Trump claimed that “certain moderators would be unacceptable,” while also noting that NBC’s Lester Holt, who the commission chose, “is a good guy.” .

    Another area in which it appears Trump got his way is the commission’s choice of Fox News’ Chris Wallace, marking the first time someone from Fox News had moderated a presidential debate and who some have argued presents a “massive conflict” of interest. Until recently, Wallace reported to Roger Ailes, the ousted head of Fox News, who is a close adviser to Trump and is reportedly helping him with debate preparation. Wallace “has been fiercely loyal to Ailes,” publicly defending him amid the sexual harassment allegations that led to his resignation, and his Sunday show has received praise from Trump himself.

    With the choice to include Wallace and to exclude Latinos, it seems like the commission let Trump dictate the conditions for the debates.

  • How The Media's Obsession With “Optics” Is Ruining Campaign Journalism

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Joining a long list of concerned media voices, The New York Times' editorial page this week linked up with the Beltway chorus to express alarm over the Clinton Foundation and the “question” it presents for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

    Surveying the well-trampled ground of supposed conflicts of interest and insinuations that Clinton sold State Department access to donors, the Times announced a pressing “need for major changes at the foundation now, before the November election.”

    As part of its declaration, the newspaper dutifully noted, “‘Pay-to-play’ charges by Donald Trump have not been proved.” But the Times, like so many other lecturing voices, was quite clear in claiming that the Clintons have to address concerns about optics even if that means shutting down their landmark global charity. That’s how important it now is for the do-good foundation to be spotless and pure: Optics trump humanitarianism.

    Or, there’s no proof anybody did anything wrong, therefore drastic actions must be taken to fix the problem.

    The meandering foundation story has become a case study for the Beltway media’s double standard: holding Clinton to a higher mark that’s based on optics, not on facts. Unable to prove misconduct or anything close to it (just ask the AP), the press relies on the comfy confines of “optics” and the “appearance” of conflict to allow them to attack Clinton and the foundation. 

    For Clinton, it’s a can’t-win proposition. If the press says the story looks bad, even if there’s nothing to suggest it actually is bad, she gets tagged with an optics problem. And because journalists are the only ones handing out the grades, they get to decide how bad it looks.

    But the journalism malpractice doesn’t end there. It extends to the fact that the press doesn’t apply the same visual test to Republican nominee Donald Trump, whose far-flung business dealings would represent an actual, even historic, conflict of interest were he to be elected president.

    Also, note that high-profile Republicans have run foundations in the past, accepted big donations, and never been hounded by the press regarding supposed optics violations.

    What’s so strange about the current “appearance” phenomenon is that the narrative often runs right alongside media concessions about the lack of evidence proving Clinton wrongdoing.

    “Let’s be clear, this is all innuendo at this point. No pay for play has been proven. No smoking gun has been found,” announced NBC’s Chuck Todd. “But like many of these Clinton scandals, it looks bad.”

    A recent NPR report also perfectly summed up the media’s working equation:

    There's no question the optics are bad for Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. But no proof has emerged that any official favors -- regulations, government contracts, international deals -- were curried in exchange for donations or pledges.

    On and on the parade marches: “Even if they’ve done nothing illegal, the foundation will always look too much like a conflict of interest for comfort” (Boston Globe). “At the very least, there is an appearance of a conflict of interest for the foundation” (CNN’s Anderson Cooper).

    Perhaps the strangest presentation came from a Times news report that claimed “the potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest” was causing problems for Clinton. Think about that for a minute. Not only is Clinton being graded on perceived conflicts of interest, but also on potential perceived ones.

    The media’s emphasis on optics when relating the foundation story represents a giant tell in terms of how soggy the supposed scandal really is. As Matthew Yglesias noted at Vox:

    It’s natural to assume that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But the smoke emanating from the Clinton Foundation is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is the result of a reasonably well-funded dedicated partisan opposition research campaign, and of editorial decisions by the managers of major news organizations to dedicate resources to running down every possible Clinton email lead in the universe.

    It also seems like journalists aren’t even sure what they’re trying to accuse the Clintons of doing. Optics violations can be confusing like that.

    From Slate: [emphasis added]

    But you don’t need to believe the Clintons are guilty of intentionally engaging in quid pro quo (though it’s not crazy to think they may have) to know that there is something wrong with a dynamic where it is nearly impossible to prove that they did, or even that they didn’t.

    It’s not possible to prove any Clinton Foundation wrongdoing, therefore the Clinton Foundation must be “shut down.” In fact, the charitable outpost should’ve been closed “yesterday.”

    Slate continued:

    Even if Hillary were somehow able to completely separate the donations -- to say nothing of her and her husband’s speaking fees, which have often come from many of the same corporations who fund their family foundation -- from her official decision-making, she simply has no way of preventing the appearance of pay for play. And the mere perception of access matters, both in the financial marketplace and the political one.

    That is, frankly, a bizarre and impossible standard: Clinton must eliminate even the “perception” of special access. I mean, people realize every member of Congress accepts money from donors, right? Therefore, every donor who gives money instantly creates the possibility of purchased access. When is Slate going to cross-check schedules for every member of Congress to see how many donors they meet with and then demand each member eliminate even the “perception” of access?

    Meanwhile, all of this optics policing unfolds while Clinton’s Republican opponent serves as an executive on more than 500 companies. So why the relative media silence about Trump’s boulder-sized conflicts of interest? Where are the litany of editorials demanding he take preventive action to fix the optics?

    I’ve seen some good coverage in the business press about Trump’s massive conflicts (“Donald Trump's 500 Businesses Would Pose 'Unprecedented Ethical Dilemma'”), but little attention from the Beltway media, especially as compared to their relentless obsession with alleged Clinton conflicts.

    Lastly, the media’s ceaseless hand-wringing over the Clinton Foundation represents a brand new way of covering charities run by famous political figures. The media allegation that wealthy donors give to the Clintons simply to cash in favors at a later date represents a cynical narrative that simply did not exist in previous Beltway foundation coverage.

    Note that Colin Powell founded a charity, America’s Promise. Then he became secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

    What happened to the charity? From Yglesias at Vox:  

    Well, Powell’s wife, Alma Powell, took it over. And it kept raking in donations from corporate America. Ken Lay, the chair of Enron, was a big donor. He also backed a literacy-related charity that was founded by the then-president’s mother. The US Department of State, at the time Powell was secretary, went to bat for Enron in a dispute the company was having with the Indian government.

    Did donors send big checks to Powell’s family foundation in order to gain access to him, to his son Michael, who was then commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, or to other Bush administration officials? We don’t know, in part because the press never turned the issue into an “optics” obsession.

    The press also didn’t seem relentlessly interested in finding out whether big donors were sending checks to the American Red Cross in 1996 while Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) ran for president. At the time, Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, ran the charity.

    Today, “optics” has become the go-to campaign theme for journalists who can’t find evidence of Clinton malfeasance. That’s not what campaign reporting is supposed to be, but the misleading craft is thriving. And in this election cycle, the flimsy, malleable standard only seems to apply to her.

    And the examples listed above are just a small sample of media figures obsessing about optics recently. Some others:

    AP:

    The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton.

    Washington Post's Chris Cillizza:

    It just plain looks bad. Really bad.

    [...]

    To be clear: I have no evidence -- none -- that Clinton broke any law or did anything intentionally shady. But, man oh man, does this latest news about the Clinton Foundation cloud her campaign's attempts to paint the charity group and her State Department as totally separate and unconnected entities.

    LA Times:

    There is not an ounce of proof suggesting criminality or racketeering, no indication that Secretary Clinton performed special favors for foundation donors.

    [...]

    Nevertheless, there are plenty of Clinton allies who are troubled by her ties to the foundation because it simply looks bad.

    [...]

    Appearances are important, even if intentions are pure.

    USA Today:

    No, it is not “the most corrupt enterprise in political history,” as Donald Trump is calling it, nor is there enough evidence of potential criminality to warrant appointment of the special prosecutor Trump is seeking. But the only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs, starting today, and transfer its important charitable work to another large American charity.

    The Atlantic:

    Even if every one of the meetings that Secretary Clinton had with foundation donors was a meeting she would have had anyway, the impression that one can pay to play means that there’s no tidy way to wall the two off.

    Time:

    If she didn’t do anything wrong, why won’t she defend herself? By avoiding taking responsibility, Clinton only exacerbates the perception she is dishonest and untrustworthy, the primary hurdle on her path to the White House. Optics matter when the issue is transparency.

    Tampa Bay Times:

    We can all readily agree that the optics of Clinton granting audiences to deep-pocketed swells who had sent tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation are not good.

    WSJ's James Taranto:

    The Clinton Foundation and the appearance of corruption.

    [...]

    And the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a “compelling government interest”—which can justify restrictions of the fundamental right to free speech—in avoiding even the appearance of corruption. The “quid” and the “quo” are enough, even if the “pro” can’t be proved.

    Media Matters researcher Tyler Cherry contributed research to this post. 
  • Media: Meet Donald Trump’s New Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & LIS POWER

    Donald Trump’s new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has long been a fixture in right-wing media and has a history of inflammatory statements, including claiming that “revulsion towards men” is “part and parcel of the feminist movement,” asserting that people “don’t want their kids looking at a cartoon with a bunch of lesbians,” and using false statistics on live television to claim sex-selection abortion is pervasive in the United States.