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When President-elect Donald Trump made seemingly open-minded remarks about climate change during a November 22 meeting with staff of The New York Times, it set off a wave of television coverage about how Trump had supposedly “reversed course” on climate change. But few of these reports addressed any of the substantive reasons that is highly unlikely, such as his transition team’s plan to abandon the Obama administration’s landmark climate policy, indications that he will dismantle NASA’s climate research program, and his appointment of fossil fuel industry allies as transition team advisers -- not to mention the full context of Trump’s remarks to the Times.
In his interview with reporters, editors and opinion columnists from the Times, Trump contradicted his long-held stance that climate change is a “hoax” by stating that he thinks “there is some connectivity” between human activities and climate change (although even that statement doesn’t fully reflect the consensus view of climate scientists that human activities are the “dominant cause” of global warming). Trump also declined to reaffirm his earlier statements that he would “renegotiate” or “cancel” the international climate agreement reached in Paris last year, instead saying that he has an “open mind” about how he will approach the Paris agreement.
But there are many reasons to take these comments with a grain of salt. For one, Trump has given no indication that he will preserve the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which is the linchpin of the United States’ emissions reduction commitments under the Paris climate agreement. To the contrary, The Associated Press reported that internal documents from Trump’s transition team “show the new administration plans to stop defending the Clean Power Plan and other recent Obama-era environmental regulations that have been the subject of long-running legal challenges filed by Republican-led states and the fossil fuel industry.” Moreover, a senior Trump space policy adviser recently indicated that the Trump administration plans to eliminate NASA’s climate change research program, a move that would likely be accompanied by significant funding cuts to climate research.
Additionally, Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate science denier from the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead his EPA transition team, and two other close allies of the fossil fuel industry, Kathleen Hartnett White and Scott Pruitt, are reportedly Trump’s leading contenders to run the EPA. Trump also named Thomas Pyle, president of the fossil fuel-funded American Energy Alliance, to head his Energy Department transition team. According to The Washington Post, “Hartnett-White, Pyle and Ebell have all expressed doubt about climate change and have criticized the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”
Then there are Trump’s Times comments themselves, which have been “wildly misinterpreted” in the media, as Grist’s Rebecca Leber has explained. In addition to saying there is “some connectivity” between human activities and climate change, Trump said during the Times interview that there are “a lot of smart people” on the “other side” of the issue, and added: “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views.” Trump also appeared to reference the thoroughly debunked “Climategate” scandal about emails among climate scientists at a U.K. university, stating, “They say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists.”
Nonetheless, Trump’s two seemingly climate-friendly remarks to the Times -- that he has an “open mind” about the Paris climate agreement and that humans play some role in climate change -- generated a tremendous amount of uncritical television coverage:
Trump’s climate remarks also received wall-to-wall coverage on cable news, although unlike the broadcast networks’ reports, several of the cable segments did feature pushback on the notion that Trump had actually changed his position on the issue.
Trump’s climate comments were uncritically covered on several CNN programs, including New Day, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. And on the November 27 edition of Inside Politics, host John King and senior political reporter Manu Raju agreed that Trump’s climate remarks were a “big deal.” Some of these programs included speculation about whether Trump truly meant what he said to the Times or whether it was a negotiating ploy, but none mentioned any specific steps Trump has taken since the election that undermine claims that he has reversed course on climate change.
By contrast, several other CNN programs included pushback on the notion that Trump had “softened” or “reversed” his position on climate change. For instance, on the November 23 edition of Erin Burnett Outfront, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein cited Trump’s plan to repeal the Clean Power Plan as evidence that although Trump is “signaling a different tone” on climate change, “when you get into the guts of the policy, he is going in the same direction”:
Similarly, in an interview with NextGen Climate founder Tom Steyer on the November 27 edition of Fareed Zakaria GPS, host Zakaria noted that despite his comments to the Times, Trump “still has a leading climate change denier [Myron Ebell] as the head of his EPA transition, [and] his actions and contradictory words have climate change activists concerned.” Zakaria added that Trump “does say he's going to reverse a lot of these executive actions that Obama has taken, whether it's on coal-fired plants or vehicle emissions.”
A couple of CNN guests also challenged the premise that Trump had shifted his stance on climate change. On the November 22 edition of CNN’s Wolf, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said of Trump’s climate remarks to the Times, “The real test is who is he appointing and what will his policies be.” And on the November 23 edition of CNN’s At This Hour, Michael Needham of Heritage Action for America (the sister organization of the fossil fuel industry-funded Heritage Foundation), pointed to other remarks Trump made to the Times in order to dispute the idea that Trump had accepted that climate change is “settled science.” Needham stated:
I read the actual transcript of this thing. If you look at what [Trump] says on climate change, it's pretty much what we would have said at Heritage. He said there are questions that need to be looked at, there's research on both sides of the issue, this is not settled science the way some people on the left want to say.
Finally, all of the prime-time MSNBC shows that featured substantial discussions of Trump’s climate remarks included proper context. For instance, on the December 2 edition of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, Hayes explained that incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had “clarif[ied]” that Trump’s “default position” on climate change is “that most of it is a bunch of bunk.” Hayes also explained that a senior Trump adviser had indicated that “NASA would be limited to exploring other planets rather than providing satellite information and data about what’s happening on the only planet we currently inhabit”:
Similarly, on the November 30 edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews aired a clip of Priebus confirming that Trump’s “default position” on climate change is that “most of it is a bunch of bunk.” And on the November 22 edition of MTP Daily, guest host Andrea Mitchell pointed out that Trump “appointed somebody from a very conservative, climate-denying, Koch-sponsored organization, policy institute, to lead the transition on energy and climate issues,” although Mitchell nonetheless maintained that Trump’s statement that he is now open to the Paris climate agreement was “a very big signal internationally.”
ABC, NBC, CBS Show “How A Fake News Story Can Lead To A Real Life-Threatening Situation"
Nightly news programs on NBC, CBS, and ABC examined “how a fake news story can lead to real world consequences” in their reports on a shooting incident at Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, DC, pizzeria.
Accused shooter Edgar Welch entered the pizzeria on December 4 with an AR-15 assault rifle, fired at least one round into the floor, and told authorities he was there to “self-investigate” the conspiracy theory that dozens of prominent liberals are complicit in an international child sex trafficking ring, because emails stolen from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta referenced “pizza.”
While conservative media outlets have typically downplayed fake news stories calling them “silly” and “nonsense,” broadcast nightly news programs on NBC, CBS, and ABC reported how fake news can have dangerous consequences.
NBC correspondent Tom Costello reported on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that “the Pizzagate conspiracy began with the Clinton WikiLeaks and an email stolen from campaign chief John Podesta about a fundraiser involving the restaurant.” Costello noted that 4chan users “suggested without any proof whatsoever that the word ‘pizza’ was code for ‘child sex trafficking’ at the restaurant,” and from there the malicious rumor spread “to Reddit and YouTube, feeding fake online news stories, then jumping to Facebook and Twitter.” Even though “both DC police and federal agents say the story is false,” Costello added that “discredited rumors about sex trafficking” targeting Democrats are “even shared by President-Elect Trump’s choice for national security adviser, General Michael T. Flynn.”:
On CBS’ Evening News with Scott Pelley, Chip Reid took apart the “fictitious online conspiracy theory” started by “right-wing sites that make up fake news” alleging Clinton and her associates were involved in a pedophile ring. Host Scott Pelley noted that the shooter gave up when he “found no evidence that underage children were being harbored in the restaurant,” as the lies on the internet baselessly alleged:
ABC senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas highlighted the “egregious and deliberate lie” that is the Pizzagate conspiracy on ABC World News Tonight with Scott Pelley. Thomas reported that the suspect “aimed a rifle at an employee and fired a round into the floor” because he decided to “self-investigate” the “utterly false story about child abuse” at Comet Ping Pong. Thomas further reported that “employees have been besieged by death threats” since the right-wing lie gained traction online, “shows how a fake news story can lead to a real life-threatening situation”:
Journalists Must Be Better Prepared In The Trump Era
Sunday show hosts failed to sufficiently press Donald Trump's surrogates on the president-elect’s blatant lies about voter fraud in the 2016 election. Journalists must raise the bar even higher when interviewing Trump and his surrogates, from merely calling out falsehoods to actively putting statements into context and offering facts and data. Failure to aggressively push back on lies and contextualize misleading statements in the “post-truth” era of Trump risks leaving viewers unclear about which party is ultimately correct and tells them only what they don’t know, rather than ensuring they are informed.
On November 27, Trump tweeted, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” In fact, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, is expected to win the popular vote by about 2.5 million votes. Additionally, the Washington Post’s Phillip Bump found just three documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. Nevertheless, Trump’s surrogates later defended his lie in a conference call with reporters.
On December 4, CBS host John Dickerson interviewed Reince Priebus, who Trump has tapped for White House chief of staff, on Face the Nation and addressed Trump’s claims that he would have won the popular vote if not for mass voter fraud:
While Dickerson did tell Priebus that “there is no evidence” that millions voted illegally, he made a series of missteps. First, he allowed Priebus to cite a Wall Street Journal op-ed that recycled discredited evidence, failing to note that the evidence was flawed and misleading. Second, while Dickerson asked if Trump needs to “tighten up his standards of proof,” he allowed Priebus to redirect the conversation away from Trump’s lies to a discussion of Trump’s penchant for tweeting in general. Finally, Dickerson never mentioned any of the numerous studies that show that claims of widespread voter fraud are false.
CBS compounded the problem by issuing a tweet that merely read “Reince Priebus: ‘It’s possible’ millions voted illegally.” Several media outlets have recently botched their headlines and tweets when reporting on false statements made by Trump, omitting context that would illustrate the inaccuracies.
CBS later deleted the tweet, replacing it with this one:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 4, 2016
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed Vice President-elect Mike Pence on This Week and also raised the question of Trump’s voter fraud tweets:
Stephanopoulos did repeatedly press Pence to offer evidence for Trump’s claim and consistently pointed out that these claims of voter fraud are false, but he failed to provide counter-evidence to effectively establish that Trump was wrong. Stephanopoulos pushed back on Pence when he cited a Pew Research Center study as evidence that Trump’s voter fraud claims could be true, noting that the authors of the study said “it is not any evidence about what happened in this election.” This pushback, however, was insufficient to properly contextualize for the audience why this evidence is flawed, leaving it up to them to figure out which Pew study is being cited and why it doesn’t apply. Stephanopoulos also neglected to cite studies that provide persuasive proof that claims of voter fraud are grossly exaggerated and largely inaccurate.
Given the total lack of proof for the right-wing’s voter fraud claims, journalists must be prepared to more thoroughly press Trump surrogates if he continues to lie. And more generally, journalists must be armed with the facts and data they need to hold surrogates accountable on the variety of issues about which President-elect Trump lies. In what has been dubbed a “post-truth” presidency, it will no longer be sufficient to merely say “that’s false.” Journalists must call out instances of cherry-picked data or flawed sources and counteract the misuse of data. Journalists can and must harness the power of fact-checking by using studies and data to relentlessly press Trump and his surrogates in order to convey the truth to the American public.
UPDATE: Hours after the Sunday political talk shows ignored the story, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they will deny the current route for the pipeline in favor of exploring alternate routes.
Sunday morning political talk shows entirely ignored the ongoing demonstration at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, continuing a troubling pattern of scant media attention being paid to the historic protests and the violent crackdown on the movement for environmental, civil, and Native peoples’ rights.
Law enforcement and private security officers armed with rubber bullets, water cannons, and dogs have clashed with peaceful protesters at the reservation in North Dakota, where Native demonstrators known as water protectors have sought to delay, and ultimately redirect or derail, construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is currently slated to run near the reservation. The pipeline, which was originally supposed to be built near Bismarck, was redirected near the reservation after residents of Bismarck raised concerns that the pipeline would contaminate their water supply. The protest has become “the longest-running protest in modern history” with “the largest, most diverse tribal action in at least a century, perhaps since Little Bighorn.”
On December 3 and 4, thousands of U.S. veterans arrived at Standing Rock to support the Native water protectors, join their cause, and “call attention to the violent treatment that law enforcement has waged on the protesters.” The Army Corps of Engineers has ordered the water protectors to vacate the site on their own reservation by December 5.
Despite the ongoing violent retaliation against the activists by law enforcement personnel, the December 4 editions of the major Sunday morning political talk shows -- including ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press -- entirely ignored the events at Standing Rock.
The Sunday political talk shows’ outrageous Standing Rock blackout is in line with how cable news has covered, or not covered, the protests. From October 26 through November 3, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC combined spent less than an hour covering the ongoing demonstration and violent law enforcement response. Fox News stood out for its minimal coverage, devoting just four and a half minutes to reporting on the events during the time frame analyzed. A review of internal Media Matters records shows that the five main Sunday shows have failed to devote time to the events at Standing Rock since at least September.
CNN’s media criticism show, Reliable Sources, discussed the media blackout on Standing Rock and provided some guidance on how cable news should cover the gathering moving forward. The show’s host, Brian Stelter, lamented that “one of the most important civil and environmental rights stories of our time” was receiving “off and on attention from the national media,” noting that too often, the story seems to completely “fall off the national news media’s radar.”
Stelter’s guest -- Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, who was charged with trespassing while reporting live on the ground -- implored "all the media” to be "there on the ground giving voice to the voiceless” and said that “all the networks” “have a responsibility” to show images of police cracking down on protesters. Goodman also linked the media’s Standing Rock blackout to the national political media’s silence about climate change during the presidential campaign: “Not one debate moderator raised that as a question,” Goodman decried. “This is a key issue.”
Some shows on MSNBC did cover the events at Standing Rock, with Al Sharpton giving a “shoutout to the protestors” and noting that, “until recently, they weren't getting any attention from the outside world.” Joy-Ann Reid, who said that “there needs to be a lot more reporting on this,” provided exemplary coverage of the protests, inviting a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to be interviewed by MSNBC’s Cal Perry on the ground in North Dakota. Reid’s segment -- by devoting time to Standing Rock in the first place, talking with a person directly affected, and having a media presence at the site -- is a model for all news shows to follow. Reid also covered the “grossly underreported story” the week prior.
Online publications and public media have given some coverage to the actions against the pipeline amid the national news media’s virtual blackout, bringing videos and images of the clashes directly to the nation in ways TV news networks are not. And Democracy Now, which has diligently reported on the activity at Standing Rock, posted a video of private security hired by the Dakota Access Pipeline Company attacking protesters with dogs and pepper spray that has over one million views on YouTube.
NowThisNews’ Facebook page has an informational video about the protests, including images of violent attacks by law enforcement personnel on the protesters and interviews from activists, that also has over one million views.
Media have a responsibility to provide coverage of the environmental and human rights battles occurring at Standing Rock. Denying the activists due coverage allows right-wing spin to infiltrate the conversation, plays into a long-standing problem of both the lack of representation of people of color in media and a double standard in covering progressive protesters, and is a barrier to generating the public pressure necessary to induce change.
Media allowed President-elect Donald Trump to, once again, take over the news narrative with his Twitter activity -- this time with a series of vague tweets in which he claimed he would be leaving his business to avoid conflicts of interest. The announcement, however, provides no details about what will become of his business holdings and distracts from news that highlights the degree to which those holdings are ripe for future conflicts.
In a series of tweets on November 30, Trump announced that he will be “holding a major news conference” on December 15 to discuss his plans for “leaving” his “great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country.” Trump added that while he is “not mandated” to “do this under any law, I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.”
As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake pointed out, “The only real news in those Trump tweets is that he’ll actually be doing a press conference,” given that Trump has already said that he would hand off management of his businesses to his children. The tweets included no new information on how Trump’s business dealings would be handled after he, allegedly, leaves them behind. But that reality didn’t stop media from making a story out of the tweets and leading with it.
The Associated Press:
The tweets do nothing to squash mounting concerns over the conflicts of interest Trump could face as president, and it’s unclear whether his promised response would address these conflicts. Shortly after the election, a Trump Organization spokesperson told CNN that Trump was planning to transfer “‘management of The Trump Organization and its portfolio of businesses to Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump,’” his children. But as ethics experts explained to Politico, “installing Trump’s adult children as caretakers doesn’t eliminate conflict questions, since he’d still know what his interests were, and he’d presumably still be in contact with his children.”
With his tweetstorm, Trump also continued his pattern of hijacking the media narrative when it suits him. In this case, Trump’s tweets give media outlets an excuse to downplay or ignore reports about the “ethical concerns” raised after the Kingdom of Bahrain reserved space in Trump’s D.C. hotel. Trump also used his tweets to continue to disseminate information on his own terms, which in the past has allowed him to avoid hard interviews and limit his press conferences.
Media are falling into Trump’s trap again by giving his tweets the front-page treatment.
MSNBC Only Outlet To Vet Ryan's Scheme To Gut The Social Safety Net
Weekday evening programming on the largest cable and broadcast news outlets almost completely ignored a long-standing Medicare privatization scheme favored by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the days since he first resurrected the idea of radically reshaping the American health care system toward for-profit interests.
During a November 10 interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, Ryan misleadingly claimed that due to mounting “fiscal pressures” created by the Affordable Care Act, the Republican-led Congress would be forced to engage with what Baier called “entitlement reform” sometime next year. Ryan falsely claimed that “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke” and that the popular health insurance system for American seniors will have to be changed as part of any legislation to “repeal and replace” President Obama’s health care reform legacy. From Special Report with Bret Baier:
According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable evening news coverage from November 10 to November 27, Ryan’s plan to privatize the nationwide, single-payer health care coverage currently enjoyed by millions of seniors has gone unmentioned on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News. Ryan’s so-called “premium support” plan was briefly mentioned on the November 22 edition of PBS NewsHour when co-host Judy Woodruff pressed President-elect Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, as to whether Trump would accept Ryan’s privatization proposal. By comparison, during the same time period, MSNBC ran six prime-time segments exposing Ryan’s privatization agenda:
According to a July 19 issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation, conservative lawmakers are likely to pursue “a proposal to gradually transform Medicare into a system of premium supports, building on proposals” adopted by Ryan when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. These so-called “premium supports” would provide each Medicare beneficiary with a “voucher” that can be used for the purchase of private health insurance; they represent “a significant change from the current system” that pays health care providers directly for services rendered.
In essence, Ryan’s plan would privatize Medicare and redirect hundreds of billions of tax dollars that currently go to doctors, hospitals, and other medical service providers through the costly private health insurance market.
This startling scheme bears similarities to a failed 2005 attempt by the Bush administration to partially privatize Social Security. Democratic members of Congress are already aligning themselves against Ryan’s throwback plan to gut Medicare, and it’s not actually clear if Trump is supportive of the initiative, which he refused to fully endorse on the campaign trail.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out last July, claims that Medicare is “nearing ‘bankruptcy’ are highly misleading,” and Ryan’s specific charge that Medicare is “broke” because of the ACA is completely wrong. President Obama’s health care reform law greatly improved Medicare’s long-term finances and extended the hospital insurance trust fund’s solvency by 11 years.
The looming fight over the future of Medicare, which serves over 55 million beneficiaries and accounted for 15 percent of the entire federal budget in 2015, has been well-documented, but it has garnered almost no attention on major television news programs.
Millions of Americans who rely on broadcast and cable evening news are completely unaware of the stakes in this health care policy fight. They are also unaware that Ryan’s privatization scheme would leave millions of retirees at the whims of the same private insurance market that right-wing media are currently attacking because of increased rates.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of weekday network broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and weekday prime-time news programming (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from November 10, 2016, through November 27, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any mention of “Medicare.”
Broadcast morning news shows mostly ignored multiple new reports highlighting potential conflicts of interests involving President-elect Donald Trump. In doing so, broadcast news outlets are continuing a pattern of ignoring important revelations about Trump’s business practices.
On November 21, multiple stories broke detailing “new questions about Mr. Trump’s willingness to use the power of the presidency to advance his business interests.” The New York Times noted that experts in legal ethics claim Trump’s business “arrangements could easily run afoul of” a constitutional clause that protects against conflicts of interest “if [the arrangements] continue after Mr. Trump takes office.” The Times and The Hill both detailed specific incidents during Trump’s transition to the presidency that have “raised concerns about conflicts of interest between his future White House and his private enterprises,” but broadcast news outlets have chosen to ignore the new reports by and large.
Media Matters searched video and transcripts of the November 22 broadcast morning news shows -- ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, and CBS’ CBS This Morning -- for reports on Trump’s conflicts of interest and found that the shows devoted less than two minutes combined to the newest reports of the president-elect’s business dealings overseas. NBC’s Today did not mention the potential conflicts of interest at all, while CBS This Morning had only 23 seconds worth of coverage, and ABC’s Good Morning America spent one minute and 31 seconds on the issue.
Inadequate reporting of Trump’s inherent conflicts of interest has been a consistent problem, despite concerns that his business entanglements will be a “national security nightmare.” News networks for the most part sidelined reporting on Trump’s conflicts of interest until after his election. Between September 14 and Election Day, the networks aired approximately seven minutes of stories about or at least mentioning Trump’s various conflicts of interest, and in the week after the election, they aired approximately 14 minutes of coverage about conflicts ranging from Trump’s foreign business ties to Ivanka Trump’s company pushing a $10,000-plus bracelet that she wore in a recent 60 Minutes interview.
Trump’s lack of transparency when it comes to divulging his business dealings makes it imperative that network news shows raise awareness about these conflicts of interest -- but so far, they’re failing.
The broadcast networks’ flagship evening news programs failed to inform their viewers about the inherent conflicts of interest a potential Donald Trump presidency would bring in the months leading up to Election Day, and have not given the subject the urgency it deserves in the wake of his election, according to a Media Matters review.
Between September 14 and Election Day, the networks only aired approximately seven minutes of stories about or at least mentioning a conflict of interest. In the week after the election, they aired approximately 14 minutes -- but only half of that explicitly called the issues “conflicts.”
Trump has said throughout his campaign and following his election that he intends for his children to run his business empire while he is president. But on September 14, Newsweek reported that if Trump and his family don’t cut ties to the family’s business conglomerate, Trump would “be the most conflicted president in American history, one whose business interests will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” due to the Trump Organization’s relationships and financial entanglements with foreign interests.” Responding to that story, Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told Media Matters that the only way to avoid serious conflicts of interest would be for Trump and his family to sell all of their holdings in the Trump Organization. Painter also stressed that the issue was a “serious problem” that warrants increased media attention.
Painter sounded some of the earliest alarms about Trump’s conflicts. Speaking with Mother Jones in June, he explained that the idea of a sitting president holding any debt owed to an entity that the government regulates should disturb the public: “[H]aving a president who owes a lot of money to banks, particularly when it's on negotiable terms -- it puts them at the mercy of the banks and the banks are at the mercy of regulators.”
The flood of potential and actual conflicts of interest have been made manifest following Trump’s election. A Washington Post investigation recently revealed a sprawling, globe-trotting Trump empire, showing that the president-elect’s real estate, management, and branding companies have business interests in at least 18 countries or territories. The Post also reported over the weekend that foreign diplomats had flocked to an event at the Trump International Hotel, located just a few blocks from the White House, seeking “to curry favor or access with the next president.”
The New York Times reported that developers of Trump Towers Pune, located in Pune, India, flew to New York last week to meet with the Trumps during the president-elect’s initial stages of his transition to the White House. Pranav R. Bhakta, a consultant who helped Trump establish a foothold in the Indian market five years ago, told the Times, “To say, ‘I have a Trump flat or residence’ -- it’s president-elect branded. It’s that recall value. If they didn’t know Trump before, they definitely know him now.”
These recent events should have come as no surprise, yet the network news hardly mentioned the conflicts of interest inherent in Trump’s global business ties before or after the election.
Media Matters looked at ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir, CBS’ Evening News with Scott Pelley, and NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt for reports on Trump’s conflicts of interest -- including the Trump Organization’s ties to foreign governments or businesses, Trump promoting his own businesses through the presidency, plans for Trump’s children taking over the Trump Organization through a “blind” trust or attempting to access security clearances, and Trump’s children using their access to the president-elect to promote their own businesses -- starting from Newsweek’s September 14 article.
From then until Election Day, the networks spent approximately seven minutes on stories about or at least mentioning a conflict of interest. NBC aired a three-minute segment, and ABC aired a three-and-a-half-minute segment. Both were about Trump using his campaign to promote his own businesses; however, neither explicitly pointed to potential upcoming conflicts of interest should Trump win the election. NBC briefly mentioned the Newsweek report in a segment about corruption in the Trump Foundation, and the night before the election, the network again briefly mentioned the conflict of interest of Trump’s business ties for about eight seconds.
In the week after the election, the networks have devoted more coverage to these conflicts of interest, but it hasn’t been enough. From November 9 to 16, the networks spent approximately 14 minutes on stories about or at least mentioning a conflict of interest, but only half of those explicitly called them conflicts. They spent a total of about seven minutes on Trump’s foreign business ties, six minutes on Trump’s children helping with the president-elect’s transition or vying for security clearances, and two minutes on Ivanka Trump using a photo of herself in Trump’s recent 60 Minutes interview to sell a bracelet that retails for over $10,000.
Media Matters searched news transcripts from the Nexis database for mentions of any variations of “conflict,” “corrupt,” “organization,” “trust,” “business,” “interest,” “cabinet,” “transition,” or “divest” within the same paragraph as “Trump” for ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir, CBS’ Evening News with Scott Pelley, and NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt from September 14 through November 16. We reviewed video to determine length of coverage.
Confused Fox & Friends Host Claims Trump Is Not Inheriting “A Healthy Economy” From President Obama
Fox & Friends misinterpreted a nuanced statement about long-term federal budget deficits from the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) while falsely claiming that President-elect Donald Trump “is inheriting the worst economy since Truman.” The comments demonstrate the continued right-wing media effort to diminish the economic successes of the Obama administration.
During the November 20 edition of CBS’ Face the Nation, an all-conservative panel lamented the supposed failure of President Obama to rein in the federal budget deficit. CRFB president Maya MacGuineas -- whom Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has labeled “the queen of the deficit scolds” -- argued that the incoming Trump administration will inherit “the worst fiscal situation of any president” since Truman, “as judged by the debt relative to the economy.” MacGuineas’ point about the so-called “debt-to-GDP ratio” was part of a larger argument highlighting that the tax and economic policy proposals put forward by Trump and his GOP counterparts during the campaign are entirely at odds with their promises to reduce the federal budget deficit and national debt. From Face the Nation:
As MacGuineas pointed out, Trump’s proposals would add “over $5 trillion to the national debt,” on top of $9 trillion that was already projected to accumulate over the next decade. CRFB says Trump’s proposals are significantly more expensive than those that were put forward by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton based on an analysis that assumes his proposed tax cuts generate economic growth. In fact, decades of evidence show no stimulative effects from tax cuts.
It is true that the debt-to-GDP ratio is currently at its highest point since the end of World War II, but there is no reason to believe the current national debt is untenable. MacGuineas clarified her point later on Twitter, reiterating that Trump actually promises to make the “fiscal situation” worse and conceding that Obama actually inherited “one of the worst economic situations” in history:
Yes that's true. It's also true that Obama inherited one of the worst economic situations, which is different than fiscal situations. https://t.co/TaBchQB7h6
— Maya MacGuineas (@MayaMacGuineas) November 20, 2016
A lot of pushback but it's true - Debt/GDP will be worst for any incoming president other than Truman. Trump's plan would make it much worse https://t.co/v1g6LCPDvU
— Maya MacGuineas (@MayaMacGuineas) November 20, 2016
MacGuineas’ nuanced, but probably not very useful, argument about “fiscal situations” and Trump’s irresponsible approach to the federal budget was entirely lost on the crew of Fox & Friends, which misinterpreted her remark while falsely claiming that the overall economy is in poor health.
During a November 21 interview with former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, co-host Brian Kilmeade butchered MacGuineas’ argument, stating, “This president-elect is inheriting the worst economy since Truman,” and, “It is not a healthy economy.” Conway agreed with Kilmeade’s hollow argument, slamming the Obama administration for the pace of debt accumulation over the past eight years while neglecting to mention that even the most favorable estimates concede that debt accumulation under Trump will far exceed Obama. From Fox & Friends:
This is not the first time that Fox & Friends has lamented the supposed fiscal shortfalls of Democratic politicians while completely ignoring the reality that Trump’s plans are demonstrably worse by the same standards.
Deficit hysteria used to be a cause célèbre of conservative media figures, who routinely slammed Obama’s alleged negligence with the nation’s finances. In 2010, an error-filled paper from two conservative Harvard economists, which falsely claimed that debt-to-GDP ratios exceeding 90 percent immediately result in domestic economic stagnation, generated unceasing criticism of the Obama administration. For years, deficit-obsessed right-wing outlets promoted the absurd claim that the national debt was pushing the United States to the verge of collapse, and right-wing politicians who are now aligned with Trump unfavorably compared the U.S. to crisis-stricken European countries.
It remains to be seen how sincere conservative media personalities are about the need to balance the budget and reduce the debt -- but we’ll find out the answer if Trump has the opportunity to enact budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthiest and most powerful individuals and corporations in the world.
Sunday morning political shows barely addressed -- or completely ignored -- the recent settlement in the class-action fraud lawsuit against Trump University and President-elect Donald Trump. In doing so, these outlets are continuing a pattern by broadcast and cable news of ignoring important revelations about Trump’s business and charitable practices.
On November 18, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle the class-action fraud lawsuit against the now-defunct Trump University in which the defendants alleged, according to the Los Angeles Times, that Trump “defrauded customers into thinking they would learn real estate secrets from professors he had ‘handpicked.’ The students said they learned little and instead were subjected to hard-sell tactics urging them to spend thousands of dollars on classes.”
As NBC reported, “The settlement likely means that Trump will avoid becoming possibly the first sitting president to testify in open court.” The New York Times called the settlement “a remarkable concession” for Trump, “who derides legal settlements and has mocked fellow businessmen who agree to them.” The Times also pointed out that the settlement is a “significant reversal from Mr. Trump, who had steadfastly rejected the allegations and vowed to fight the lawsuits,” and that he “doubled down” on that response when “political opponents pressed him on the claims during the campaign, saying he would eventually reopen Trump University.”
Despite the unusual nature of a president-elect settling a multimillion-dollar fraud lawsuit, the November 20 editions of the Sunday morning political talk shows -- including ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press -- barely covered the settlement. Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday did not mention the settlement at all, while This Week, State of the Union, and Meet the Press spent a combined total of merely four minutes and eight seconds on the news.
Media Matters searched Nexis and Snapstream for mentions of Trump University or Trump U. on the November 20 editions of ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press. Mentions were coded and timed for length on Snapstream.
CBS News provided alt-right white nationalist Richard Spencer with a platform to normalize his racist political movement and praise President-elect Trump without pressing him on his racists comments and stances.
After noting Twitter’s recent suspension of several prominent white nationalist accounts associated with hate speech, CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan asked Richard Spencer if he was “an advocate for an all-white United States of America,” and allowed Spencer to respond “No, I don’t think that is going to happen,” without offering a follow-up question or pressing him on his past racist comments. From the November 17 edition of CBS' CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley:
JOHN DICKERSON (GUEST HOST): In Germany today, President Obama called the spread of fake news online a threat to democracy. Facebook and other social media sites are being criticized for not doing enough to stop bogus stories that seem to dominate the election cycle. Jericka Duncan has more on this.
JERICKA DUNCAN: When a satirical web site headlined a story "Pope Francis shocked the world, backs Trump," the fake news went viral. Waves of false headlines on social media have turned readers into believers. This week, social media giants Facebook and Google said they will go after hoax websites by restricting ad revenue. Facebook is also planning to launch a program allowing users to flag fake news. Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis.
JEFF JARVIS: The slope is very slick if we try the make Facebook and Google and company into censors. You can't fight a position that just because somebody doesn't like it and doesn't trust it, it gets killed, it would be very dangerous to have blacklists and to ban sites, I think.
DUNCAN: Twitter is taking a different approach. A new feature rolling out this week allows users to mute key words, phrases and even entire conversations. Tuesday, it suspended several accounts supported by white nationalists, including Richard Spencer's, a leader of the alt-right movement which is based on white identity.
Are you an advocate for an all-white United States of America?
RICHARD SPENCER: No. I don't think that is going to happen. I want to first raise consciousness of who we are amongst Europeans in the United States, and second, I want to promote policies that really have a realistic chance of being implemented by the Donald Trump administration.
DUNCAN: Twitter's rules prohibit violent threats, harassment and hateful conduct. A spokesperson from Twitter says they don't comment on accounts they've suspended for privacy and security reasons. John?
The Associated Press has reported however that Spencer has “matter-of-factly called for removing African-Americans, Hispanics, and Jews from the United States,” declaring “We’ll help them go somewhere else.”
Duncan’s failure to press Spencer helped normalize a bigot that founded the white nationalist website Alternative Right, where one contributor wrote that “low-IQ Mexican immigration is the greatest threat to America,” and that “we should be heartened that white teenage girls aren’t passing themselves around in black neighborhoods.”
During a November 13 interview on CBS News’ 60 Minutes, president-elect Donald Trump promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, upending a longstanding constitutional right to abortion access. Rather than calling out this extreme position and explaining its potential consequences for millions of Americans, outlets instead attempted to normalize and downplay Trump’s commitment to roll back legal abortion access in the United States.
O'Reilly: "I've Got A Kids Book That I Want Millions Of Kids To Look At. That's What I'm Interested In, Not Making My Network Look Bad."
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly lashed out when asked about fellow Fox host Megyn Kelly’s allegations in her new book that she was sexually harassed by former Fox CEO Roger Ailes, saying, “I'm not interested in making my network look bad.” O’Reilly, who himself once settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with a Fox employee, insisted that Fox is “a good place to work.”
On the November 15 edition of CBS This Morning, O’Reilly was asked about Kelly’s book, in which she describes being sexually harassed by Ailes. O’Reilly initially responded calmly, calling Kelly smart and saying he hadn’t read the book, but he became agitated and defensive when pressed by CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell about the sexual harassment allegations. O’Reilly insisted that Fox is “a good place to work,” said that he’s “not interested in basically litigating something that is finished,” and he’s “not going to buy into let’s use the Fox News Channel as a piñata.” From CBS This Morning:
BILL O'REILLY: I want to be very candid here, I'm not that interested in this.
GAYLE KING (CO-HOST): No?
O'REILLY: No, I mean, it’s over for me.
NORAH O’DONNELL (CO-HOST): In sexual harassment? You’re not interested in sexual harassment?
O'REILLY: I’m not interested in basically litigating something that is finished, that makes my network look bad. OK? I'm not interested in making my network look bad. At all. That doesn't interest me one bit.
O'DONNELL: Is that what she's doing?
O'REILLY: I don’t know, but I’m not going to even bother with it. I've got a country that's in a transition, political transition. All right? I've got a kids book that I want millions of kids to look at. That's what I'm interested in, not making my network look bad.
O’REILLY: Look, it's open season, let's whack the Fox News Channel. I've had enough of it. It's a good place to work, all right? We do good work. We do honest work there. So, I'm not going to buy into let’s use the Fox News Channel as a piñata. I don’t think it’s right.
O’Reilly was one of many Fox personalities who defended Ailes in the wake of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former host Gretchen Carlson in July, saying in an interview, “I stand behind Roger 100 percent,” and calling Carlson’s lawsuit “frivolous.” After Ailes resigned amid building public pressure, O’Reilly falsely claimed that he hadn’t commented on the sexual harassment claims against Ailes.
Since Ailes’ resignation, it has become clear that sexual harassment is an institutional problem at the network. Kelly was one of over two dozen women who came forward after Carlson filed her lawsuit alleging that they had been harassed by Ailes. Former host Andrea Tantaros also filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, naming not only Ailes, but several high-level executives and the Fox News Channel as defendants. Tantaros claimed that her “tenure at Fox News devolved into a nightmare of sexual harassment by Ailes, Fox News’s then-President, and others, followed by retaliation by Ailes and others despite multiple ongoing complaints by Tantaros.” One of the Fox executives named as a defendant in Tantaros’ suit was Bill Shine, who, according to the lawsuit, responded to Tantaros’ complaint that she was being harassed by telling her “that Ailes was a ‘very powerful man’ and that Tantaros ‘needed to let this one go.’” Shine was promoted to co-president of Fox News after Ailes’ resignation.
The New York Times reported in July that Fox News has “a broader problem in the workplace” that went beyond Ailes. According to the Times, about a dozen women “said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it. Two of them cited Mr. Ailes and the rest cited other supervisors.”
O’Reilly himself settled a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by then-Fox producer Andrea Mackris in 2004, which alleged that O’Reilly made “a series of explicit phone calls to her, advised her to use a vibrator and told her about sexual fantasies involving her.” O’Reilly reportedly settled the lawsuit for “anywhere from $2 million to $10 million.” O'Reilly was also named in Tantaros' suit, though he was not listed as a defendant. She alleged that he sexually harassed her by "asking her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be 'very private,'" and by "telling her on more than one occasion that he could 'see [her] as a wild girl,' and that he believed that she had a 'wild side.'”
60 Minutes gave a master class in normalizing a dangerous demagogue -- inviting President-elect Donald Trump to reintroduce himself as a reasonable politician while glossing over the most dangerous features and promises of his recent campaign, including his reliance on the chief of the white nationalist “alt-right” website Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon, who has just been named White House senior counselor.
During the November 13 edition of CBS’s 60 Minutes, Donald Trump gave correspondent Lesley Stahl his first extensive interview since winning the presidential election. The interview was a disturbing start for journalism in a Trump presidency -- asking softball questions, fixating on Trump’s personal feelings about becoming president, and repeatedly minimizing Trump’s most dangerous promises as mere campaign talk.
Throughout the interview, Stahl repeatedly invited Trump to distance himself from the extreme positions he took during the campaign. Stahl introduced the interview by telling viewers that 60 Minutes had discovered many of Trump’s signature campaign promises were, in fact, “not meant to be taken literally, but as opening bids for negotiation.” (A sentiment Trump himself did not express during the taped interview.)
That framing continued throughout the interview. “Are people going to be surprised about how you conduct yourself as president?,” Stahl asked, suggesting that the Trump Americans had come to know on the campaign trail might have been an act. Asking about Trump’s campaign rhetoric, Stahl wondered if the president-elect would “have that same rhetoric you had on the stump or are you going to rein it in?”
The bulk of Stahl’s policy questions focused on whether Trump was going to follow through on a given campaign position or “change it in any way.”
That approach -- essentially asking Trump ‘did you really mean what you said?’ rather than holding him accountable for the platform he ran on -- allowed Trump to reintroduce himself as a reasonable politician, distance himself from positions like putting his political opponent in prison or reversing marriage equality, and avoid having to answer substantive questions about how he planned to implement proposals like building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border or repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Stahl also focused on Trump’s personal reaction to being elected president, asking if he was surprised by his victory, if he realized the enormity of his victory, if he was “intimidated” or “scared” by the burden of the presidency, if it was awkward meeting with President Obama, etc. Asking about Trump’s first meeting with the president, Stahl wondered “You looked pretty sober sitting there in the Oval Office. Did something wash over you?”
In a 60 Minutes Overtime segment, Stahl explained that she believed Trump had become “much more subdued, much more serious” in the days since winning the presidency:
“I really did have the feeling that the sense of gravity, and how big the problems are — it was sinking in, washing over him,” she says. “I think he wanted the public to know that he understood that he had to shift gears and pay attention to the responsibilities now.”
Again, Stahl’s framing assumes that the Trump who will soon be leading the country is not going to be the same Trump who ran one of the most divisive, undisciplined, and dangerous presidential campaigns in modern American history.
And those questions about Trump’s personal feelings came at the expense of more serious questions about what he actually plans to do as president, especially in light of his shameful positions as a candidate: his pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country or engage in war crimes, for example. They also came at the expense of questions about ongoing controversies, lawsuits, and conflicts of interest surrounding the president-elect, including charges of fraud over Trump University, his promise to sue the many women who accused him of sexual harassment and assault, the anti-semitic positions of his campaign and reports of the same surrounding his new senior counselor, and Trump’s ties to white nationalists at home and Russian interests abroad.
Is this how major news networks will spend the next four years normalizing Trump’s extremism? Treat it like an act, assume he doesn’t mean what he says, fixate on the sensationalism of his ascendancy, and play nice in order to maintain access? The same thing happened during the campaign, when journalists spent months predicting a Trump “pivot” that never came.
It is the responsibility of news networks to describe the world as it is, not as they hope it turns out. 60 Minutes’ apparent blind faith or unwillingness to take Trump’s campaign promises seriously -- to acknowledge that the most powerful office in the country is about to be occupied by someone who demonstrates no regard for basic democratic norms -- highlights the frightening possibility that many news networks simply aren’t prepared to speak truth to power during a Trump presidency.