Chris Cillizza

Tags ››› Chris Cillizza
  • Harvard Study Confirms Media’s Role In Trump’s Political Rise

    Study: “Trump Is Arguably The First Bona Fide Media-Created Presidential Nominee”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A new Harvard University study highlighted how the media’s excessively positive coverage of Donald Trump during the primaries gave the candidate the platform he needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination.

    The study found that while media usually determined the highest polling candidate as the most newsworthy, this was not the case with Trump. He was neither leading in fundraising nor in the polls when his exaggerated coverage began. Additionally, the study found that  though he eventually rose in the polls to warrant such coverage, “he was lifted to that height by an unprecedented amount of free media” (emphasis added):

    So what explains the news media’s early fascination with Trump? The answer is that journalists were behaving in their normal way. Although journalists play a political brokering role in presidential primaries, their decisions are driven by news values rather than political values.  Journalists are attracted to the new, the unusual, the sensational—the type of story material that will catch and hold an audience’s attention. Trump fit that need as no other candidate in recent memory. Trump is arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee. Although he subsequently tapped a political nerve, journalists fueled his launch.

    Journalists seemed unmindful that they and not the electorate were Trump’s first audience. Trump exploited their lust for riveting stories. He didn’t have any other option. He had no constituency base and no claim to presidential credentials. If Trump had possessed them, his strategy could have been political suicide, which is what the press predicted as they showcased his tirades. Trump couldn’t compete with the likes of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush on the basis of his political standing or following. The politics of outrage was his edge, and the press became his dependable if unwitting ally.

    In 2015, after announcing his bid for president in June, the Trump campaign received  an unprecedented amount of coverage from network nightly news broadcasts. According to television news analyst Andrew Tyndall, though Trump announced his candidacy in mid 2015, he was only surpassed by weather reports in total airtime. Fox News gave Trump almost $30 million in free airtime in 2015, resulting in nearly 24 hours worth of exposure.

    The Harvard study pointed out “Trump’s coverage was positive in tone,” with the press using statements and interviews with Trump supporters that legitimized his comments. . The media also lauded Trump as “presidential” after winning the New York primary despite his repeated racist and sexists statements.

    After reading the Harvard University study, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza acknowledged the media’s obsession with and overtly positive coverage of Trump contributed to his rise  (emphasis added):

    I think it's important to always take stock of how we are doing in terms of our coverage and what we did wrong and what we could do better. And I think that self-examination includes, when necessary, acknowledging when an argument you had made is no longer backed up by evidence. It's hard for me to look at the Shorenstein Center study and conclude anything other than that the media played a larger role in the rise of Trump than I previously believed.

    [...]   

    Still. For those of you who screamed when I wrote that the media bore no culpability in Trump's rise, you had it right. I'll try to do better next time.   

  • In Reporting On Hillary Clinton, Media Get Facts Wrong On Colin Powell's Private Email Use

    Report Found Powell Also Used Private Email On An “Exclusive Basis”

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Journalists are suggesting that a recent State Department report proves that Hillary Clinton was the first secretary of state to exclusively use a private email account for government work, contradicting Clinton’s statements. In fact, the report states that former Secretary of State Colin Powell also used a personal email account “on an exclusive basis for day-to-day operations.”

  • A Timeline Of The Anonymously Sourced FBI Agent Numbers That Distorted The Clinton Email Server Investigation

    The Numbers Have Changed From 150 To 12

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Since January, numerous outlets, including Fox News and The Washington Post, have cited anonymous or discredited sources to claim that up to 150 FBI agents were investigating Hillary Clinton's private email server. But the number of agents has been a moving target, with the Post later correcting itself to say it was "less than 50" and NBC saying March 30 that the number is closer to 12. NBC's source -- also anonymous -- called the earlier figures "ridiculous" and said, "You need an act of terrorism to get 50 agents working on something."

  • Washington Post Corrects Faulty Report That Nearly 150 FBI Agents Are Investigating Clinton Emails

    The Post Now Reports "The Number Of FBI Personnel Involved Is Fewer Than 50"

    Blog ››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP

    The Washington Post has retracted its anonymously sourced claim that 147 FBI agents are detailed to the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, and is now reporting that the real number is fewer than 50. Media outlets trumpeted the Post's report of the supposedly "staggering" number of FBI agents working the investigation as bad news for Clinton.

    On March 27, the Post published a 5,000-word article detailing the FBI's investigation into Clinton's use of a private email and personal Blackberry device during her time as secretary of state. The original story reported: "One hundred forty-seven FBI agents have been deployed to run down leads, according to a lawmaker briefed by FBI Director James B. Comey."

    The Post's claim spread throughout the media, with outlets frequently highlighting the 147 figure in their headlines and some using the report to attack Clinton. National Review termed the figure "a staggering deployment of manpower," while Breitbart News celebrated the "FBI recently kick[ing] its investigation into high gear." The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza highlighted the "eye-popping" 147 figure by commenting, "W-H-A-T?", adding that the reported number of agents seemed "like a ton for a story that Clinton has always insisted was really, at heart, a right-wing Republican creation," while MSNBC's Joe Scarborough called the number the "worst kept secret in DC for months." The story was also highlighted in several segments on Fox News.

    But the next day, Politico reported that the Post's story might be inaccurate. According to Politico, an official close to the investigation refuted the Post's report, saying that "The FBI does not have close to 150 agents working the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email server" and that the Post's "number is greatly exaggerated."

    The Washington Post issued a correction to both their initial story on March 29, explaining that they incorrectly reported "that 147 FBI agents had been detailed to the investigation" and that multiple U.S. law enforcement officials "have since told The Washington Post that figure is too high" and the actual number of "FBI personnel involved in the case is fewer than 50":

    CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Clinton used two different email addresses, sometimes interchangeably, as secretary of state. She used only hdr22@clintonemail.com as secretary of state.  Also, an earlier version of this article reported that 147 FBI agents had been detailed to the investigation, according to a lawmaker briefed by FBI Director James B. Comey. Two U.S. law enforcement officials have since told The Washington Post that figure is too high. The FBI will not provide an exact figure, but the officials say the number of FBI personnel involved is fewer than 50.

    Cillizza issued an update to his post, changing his headline but not the text of his piece to reflect the Post's correction and stating, "I apologize for the error."

    The Washington Post joins other media outlets that have been forced to issue embarrassing corrections after publishing faulty claims on Clinton's emails based on anonymous sources. The New York Times issued two corrections on stories claiming Clinton was the subject of a "criminal probe," based in part on unnamed "Capitol Hill" sources.  

    The media continues to scandalize Hillary Clinton during the FBI's probe, even though legal experts have repeatedly explained that Clinton is unlikely to face prosecution and have termed an indictment "ridiculous."

  • CNN Op-Ed Calls Out Media "Sexism" Regarding Attacks On Hillary Clinton's Voice

    Blog ››› ››› KATE SARNA

    A CNN op-ed outlines how media criticism of Hillary Clinton's voice is not only "sexist" and a distraction from political issues, but also represents a "charge faced by professional women that they are too aggressive and ambitious."

    Miami Herald and World Politics Review columnist Frida Ghitis calls out reporters for attacks on Clinton's speaking style, suggesting the criticism is part of "the 'shrill' smear against Hillary Clinton." Ghitis writes that Bob Woodward and Joe Scarborough's critique of Clinton's Iowa victory speech was an example of "transparent sexism." Ghitis also calls a New York Times report "absurd" for claiming that Clinton came off angry compared to Sanders, when in fact both speeches were "heated and intense." She highlights The Philadelphia Inquirer's assessment that Clinton lacks "elegance and grace," Peggy Noonan's comparison of Clinton to a "landlady yelling," and Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza's comment that Clinton was "Hyper aggressive." Ghitis likens the "sexist" attacks against Hillary Clinton to the "charge faced by professional women that they are too aggressive and ambitious."

    These are not the only sexist attacks that have been levied against Clinton since her speech in Iowa. Fox's Geraldo Rivera claimed her "shriek" was "unpleasant" and suggested Clinton "may be hard of hearing," while Sean Hannity -- who has referred to Clinton as "shrill" in the past -- said the speech was merely "angry, bitter screaming." The media has a history of making sexist remarks about Clinton, targeting subjects including but not limited to her voice. From the February 8 op-ed:

    Woodward, in case you haven't heard, brought his decades of expertise to the MSNBC show "Morning Joe" to shed light on the difficulties faced by the once-undisputed Democratic front-runner. He opined "a lot of it, with Hillary Clinton has to do with style and delivery, oddly enough." Then he explained, "She shouts. There is something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating and I think it just jumps."

    [...]

    The transparent sexism, along with Clinton's poor performance with women, led former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to declare this weekend at a Clinton campaign rally that "there is a special place in hell for women who don't help each other." Women, in fact, are free to choose among the candidates. But like all voters, they should ensure that insidious sexism, theirs or the pundits', does not waft in to cloud their judgment.

    That there is sexism in politics, in business, in the world, is beyond dispute. But in this particular case there is an overarching risk, a cautionary message for voters. Sure, sexist attitudes are a problem for women. But here they are a problem for all Americans deciding who should become president. Instead of discussing what truly matters, the experts are talking about Clinton's tone of voice. And that is just one of the distractions along this well-trod path.

    [...]

    There's the voice, of course, which a (female) writer in The Philadelphia Inquirer finds lacks "elegance and grace," and Peggy Noonan says "reminds me of the landlady yelling." Then there is that charge faced by professional women that they are too aggressive and ambitious.

    During Thursday's debate, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza called her "Hyper aggressive." Another debate review, in The New York Times, contrasted her and her opponent, saying Bernie Sanders "kept his cool in the debate," while Clinton appeared "tense and even angry at times." The truth is they were both heated and intense, which was fitting. The Times' comparison was absurd.

  • Following Paris Attack, Washington Post Called For Substance -- And Then Returned To Campaign Optics

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Contrasting Friday night's Parisian scenes of horror with last week's previous big campaign news about Donald Trump and his weird, rambling address in Iowa, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza recently bemoaned "the remarkable smallness of our politics."

    Pointing to the volume of trivial pursuits that pass as campaign news, Cillizza argued the press (including himself) "bear some blame" for not being substantive enough, and for focusing on trivialities and not covering "the various ways that the candidates for president would deal with the threat posed by ISIS." (News consumers prefer trivial pursuits, he argued.)

    So is it possible that the Paris massacre will change the press coverage and refocus much-needed attention on substance and public policy? 

    Not likely, because there was Cillizza and the Post right after the Democrats' debate in Iowa Saturday night doing exactly what he claimed the press did too much of -- leaning heavily on optics at the expense of substance.

    The Post is hardly alone in being guilty of the optics transgression or being overly fascinated with how campaign events look and play in the press. But the Post may have been alone in so neatly contradicting its own plea for post-Paris substance on the campaign trail and then immediately following that up with optics-heavy insights.

    The media's obsession with trivia has been a campaign problem for years, and arguably an even bigger concern this year. Remember all the hot media takes about Hillary Clinton's accent?

    And all these think pieces following her lunchtime stop at a Chipotle restaurant in Ohio?

    *"Hillary Clinton Goes Unnoticed at Chipotle In Botched Retail Politicking Bid" (Washington Times)

    *"Clinton Bypassed Centrist Taco Bell for Liberal Favorite Chipotle" (Wall Street Journal)

    *"What Hillary Clinton's Chipotle Stop Says About Her Campaign" (Christian Science Monitor)

    Who can forget the absurdist scene in April when a herd of campaign reporters broke into a sprint while trying to track down Clinton's "Scooby Van" as it swung behind a community college in Iowa for a campaign visit? And this was while the press deducted points from Clinton for not offering enough campaign substance.

    Fast-forward to the horrific killings in Paris, and it appears that even that grave event can't alter the tone and tenor of U.S. campaign coverage.

    Because even before the Iowa debate began, on its list of "the top 13 issues," the Post was trumpeting as number two (after terrorism) the relatively pointless news burp about how Hillary Clinton recalled walking into a Marines recruiting office in 1975 and trying to join. Following the controversy surrounding stories from Ben Carson's biography, the Marines story caught the attention of the press mostly because it just didn't seem right; the optics were off.

    Note that in terms of the debate, the Post listed the Marines non-story as being more important than clean energy, immigration reform and veterans care, among other pressing issues.

    Then following the debate, the Post swooped in and announced Clinton's performance had been badly off kilter. (She was one of the night's "losers.") According to Cillizza, despite the fact that Clinton "was quite good for much of the debate," she nonetheless "made a few verbal and/or policy mistakes that will likely haunt her in the days to come."

    For instance, Cillizza stressed that Clinton had "refused a chance to say the words 'radical Islam' when asked about the threat posed by the Islamic State -- a decision that Republicans jumped on in the moment and will keep bringing up if and when Clinton is the Democratic nominee."

    The Post emphasized the "radical Islam" point the next day in a news article about Clinton's supposed debate "gaffes" and "missteps." (Belatedly, the Post offered up a different take on that topic.)

    The Post announced that by not labeling the Paris massacre a "radical Islam" attack, Clinton had opened herself up to Republican attack. And by not adopting a GOP talking point she had committed a "misstep" and a "gaffe."

    Question: Doesn't that mean the entire Democratic debate represented a two-hour "gaffe"?

    Elsewhere, the Post was sure Clinton had messed up by reminding voters she grew up in the 1960s during an age of student protest. "The TV ad, particularly if Republicans nominate someone like Marco Rubio, who is 45 years old (Clinton is 68), practically writes itself," wrote Cillizza.

    Note how the Post seamlessly adopted the GOP spin that of course voters prefer a candidate in their forties compared to a candidate in their sixties. The Post didn't bother with any independent evidence to back that up claim, it simply quoted Republican pollster Frank Luntz: "Nobody, Republican or Democrat, wants to vote for a candidate from the 1960s when we're well into the 21st century." But if Democrats don't want to vote for a candidate from the 1960s, why does Clinton enjoy a large lead in the primary polls?

    Any time there's a call for increased substance in campaign coverage, that's a good thing. Making it stick proves much harder.

  • Media Return To Deriding Hillary Clinton's Laugh

    "The Cackle," "A Record Scratch," And Other Tired Attacks From The Debate

    Blog ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

    Clinton and Sanders at the October 13 debate

    Multiple media figures derided Hillary Clinton's laugh during the first Democratic presidential debate, calling it a "cackle" and "a record scratch." During the 2008 presidential race, Clinton's laughter was repeatedly attacked, despite criticism that such attacks were rooted in sexism.

    During the October 13 CNN debate in Las Vegas, Clinton laughed after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders defended her from repeated questions about her use of private email by criticizing the media for fixating on the issue and saying, "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!" Clinton and Sanders shook hands as the crowd applauded.

    The moment has been described by several outlets as a highlight of the night.  

    But several media figures initially focused on Clinton's laugh. BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski tweeted, "oh god the Clinton laugh is out," while the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote, "THE CLINTON LAUGH," and Fox's Sean Hannity tweeted "Omg that laugh."

    Several conservative media figures took it further, calling it a "cackle":

    Attacking Clinton's laughter was a common theme during the Democratic primary before the 2008 election. In September 2007, after Clinton appeared on several Sunday political talk shows and laughed in response to some questions, media figures spent weeks debating and mocking her laughter. Fox News led the charge, with Bill O'Reilly even discussing Clinton's laughter with a "body language expert" who deemed it "evil," and Sean Hannity calling the laugh "frightening."

    The mainstream press picked up on the attacks on Clinton's laugh, with New York Times political reporter Patrick Healy writing an article with the headline "Laughing Matters in Clinton Campaign," in which he described Clinton's "hearty belly laugh" as "The Cackle," calling it "heavily caffeinated" and suggesting it may have been "programmed."

    Then-Politico reporter Ben Smith also described Clinton's laugh as her "signature cackle," while Politico correspondent Mike Allen and editor-in-chief John F. Harris wrote that Clinton's laugh "sounded like it was programmed by computer."

    And New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who has a long history of nasty attacks on Clinton, claimed Clinton's laugh was allowing her to look less like a "hellish housewife" and a "nag" and more like a "wag":

    As Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once told me: "She's never going to get out of our faces. ... She's like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won't stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone."

    That's why Hillary is laughing a lot now, big belly laughs, in response to tough questions or comments, to soften her image as she confidently knocks her male opponents out of the way. From nag to wag.

    The list goes on: MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, then-MSNBC host David Shuster, then-MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, radio host Mike Rosen, Dick Morris, the Drudge Report, The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi, Time magazine's Joe Klein, the New York Times' Frank Rich, CNN's Jeanne Moos, and others all debated or derided Clinton's laughter during Clinton's first run for president.

    Politico's Allen said on MSNBC during all of this that "'cackle' is a very sexist term," and disputed MSNBC's Chris Matthews' use of it in reference to Clinton. Other outlets agreed; Jezebel called out Matthews for his "cackle" criticism and other derisive remarks, asking, "can we agree that no matter what your political allegiances, this is not the way you speak of a woman -- whether she is a senator or not?" Rachel Sklar, writing in the Huffington Post, said at the time "I keep finding sexist Hillary Clinton bashing everywhere I turn," noting that criticisms of the candidate's laughter "turn completely on the fact that she's a woman. 'The Cackle?' So would never be applied to a man. We all know it."

    Unfortunately, the criticism hasn't stopped in the intervening seven years. The Washington Free Beacon has a "Hillary Laugh Button" permanently on its site. The National Journal published in June 2014, many months prior to Clinton declaring her second bid for president, a "Comprehensive Supercut of Hillary Clinton Laughing Awkwardly With Reporters." And conservative tweet-aggregator Twitchy in August mocked "scary as hell" pens which featured "Clinton's cackling head." 

  • Wash Post Has Published At Least 70 Clinton Email Articles, Blog Posts, And Columns--Just This Month

    In August, Post's Ingatius Explained Why The Controversy Is "Overstated"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The runaway coverage of Hillary Clinton's emails has become so expansive that it's often hard for news consumers to get their hands around how vast the ocean of media attention is. It's difficult to quantify how numbing the endless questions have become, and how painfully repetitive the bouts of analysis now are.

    Lately though, we're starting to get some concrete data points. For instance, thanks to the broadcast evening news analysis of Andrew Tyndall we know that ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News this year have together spent just as much time covering the email controversy as they have spent covering Clinton's entire presidential campaign.

    Additionally, Media Matters detailed how, since March, Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza has penned more than 50 posts mentioning Hillary Clinton's emails, nearly all of them featuring dire warnings about the supposedly "massive political problem" facing the Democrat.

    It turns out Cillizza isn't alone at the Post. According to a search of the Nexis database, the Post has published at least 70 articles, columns, and blog posts this month that mention Clinton and discuss her emails at least three times.  

    70, just this month.

    In other words, the Post has roughly averaged more than two Clinton email missives every day in September. The newspaper's total word count for Clinton email coverage, in news and opinion, this month? According to Nexis word counts, approximately 60,000 words, which is about the equivalent of a 200-page hardcover book.

    Just for the month of September.

    Right now, the Post's relentless, breathless news and opinion coverage feels like Iran Contra-meets-Watergate, even though there's no indication any laws were broken in the Clinton saga. The ironic part is that in late August, Post columnist David Ignatius spelled out why the media fury surrounding the email story was "overstated."  Most of the Post newsroom apparently ignored him for the month of September.

    And keep in mind, this tsunami-type coverage comes six months after the email story first emerged.

    Obviously this much saturation coverage produces almost comedic redundancies. Take for instance how the Post's news and opinion pages handled the apology Clinton offered up regarding her use of private emails:  

    -Hillary Clinton apologizes for e-mail system: 'I take responsibility'

    -Hillary Clinton finally apologizes for her private e-mail server. What took so long?

    -Why Hillary Clinton apologized

    -Hillary's apology won't make e-mail scandal go away

    -Hillary Clinton's 'apology' interview, annotated

    -Is Clinton's 'I'm sorry' TV tour enough to change her political fortunes?

    Gee, think Post readers get the idea?

    Like lots of news organizations, it seems the Post has decided to gorge itself on email coverage and use it as a permanent backdrop for the Clinton campaign.  For Republicans, that's a winning model. For voters in search of 2016 insights, not so much.

  • 50 Headlines That Reveal Wash. Post Reporter Chris Cillizza's Obsession With The Clinton Email Story

    Blog ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

    Chris Cillizza

    Chris Cillizza has written more than 50 posts mentioning Hillary Clinton's emails since March on his Washington Post politics blog The Fix, nearly all of them issuing dire warnings about the supposedly "massive political problem."

    The New York Times first wrote about Clinton's email during her tenure at the State Department on March 2, when they falsely reported she had violated federal requirements by using a private email account. Since then, mainstream media outlets have attempted to find some scandal in the email story, often pushing various falsehoods and being forced to issue corrections after the fact. To date, there has been no evidence of any lawbreaking.

    Cillizza has been a major contributor to this effort, repeatedly claiming the email story "just keeps getting worse" and that it's "not going away," while claiming Clinton has an "honesty problem" and should "start panicking."

    Just this week, Cillizza wrote a post headlined "Just when you thought the e-mail story couldn't get worse for Hillary Clinton ..." The post misleadingly tried to repackage old email stories as new developments in the "scandal."

    Searching Nexis for pieces written at The Fix with Cillizza's byline, Media Matters found over 100 blog posts that mentioned Hillary Clinton in the headline or first paragraphs since March 2. Roughly half of those posts also mentioned Clinton's "email," "e-mail," or "server" at least once. Only a handful of the headlines suggest any good news for the Democratic frontrunner for president.

    Media Matters presents 50 headlines representative of Cillizza's coverage on Clinton's emails:

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  • After Being Tough On Clinton Foundation Donors, The Press Protects Koch Donors Anonymity

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The curious revelation that reporters from nine news organizations recently attended Charles and David Koch's political summit and voluntarily agreed not to identify key donors in attendance provided a helpful look into the double standard that the media often use when covering conservatives vs. covering the Clintons.

    Willing to temporarily look away from the donor news behind the Koch brothers push to remake American politics in their billionaire image (and to bankroll the GOP's 2016 nominee), several of the same outlets have spent months this year needling Bill and Hillary Clinton for not being transparent enough about donors to the charitable Clinton Foundation.

    To hear much of the press' often fevered coverage of the Clinton Foundation, it's simply unacceptable and downright deceitful to hide the names of wealthy people who give. Yet many of the same class of reporters volunteered not to disclose Koch donors who mingled among journalists all weekend at the five-star GOP summit?

    Given that willingness to look the other way, it's difficult to take seriously the media's incessant demands that the Clintons be more transparent about their donors; donors who give to a charity devoted to help poor people around the world, not devoted to electing U.S. politicians, which is what Koch donors are all about. (The Koch brothers, and affiliated groups, are expected to spend $889 million on the 2016 race, after having raised $400 million on the 2012 contests.)

    Moreover, the Clinton Foundation has actually done more than most charities do to disclose their donors. Though a few of their affiliates have not revealed some donors (in part because of differing laws in other countries), the charity has gone to great lengths ever since Clinton first became secretary of state: "In posting its donor data, the foundation goes beyond legal requirements, and experts say its transparency level exceeds that of most philanthropies," the Post previously reported.

    Yet try to image the universal, all-encompassing, hour-after-hour pundit outrage that would be unleashed if the Clinton Foundation held a political summit this year and demanded journalists hide the identity of key donors who attended. The same Beltway media have no problem with the Kochs hiding 450 of their big, dark-money donors -- and hiding them in plain sight.

    The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone spelled out the obvious ethical troubles raised by stipulations attached to the formerly closed-to-the-press Koch summit, where key Republican politicians were invited to address conservative billionaires:  

    The problem is that the ground rules could restrict journalists from reporting what's right in front of their eyes. If, say, Rupert Murdoch, or even a lesser-known billionaire, walked by, they couldn't report the person's attendance without permission. So it's possible journalists end up reporting largely what the event sponsors want, such as fiery speeches and candidate remarks criticizing Democrats, but less on the power brokers attending who play key behind-the-scenes roles in the 2016 election.

    By playing by the Koch's rules, the press left itself open to some sizeable bouts of hypocrisy.

    Recall that in April, Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins published partisan author Peter Schweizer's Clinton Cash, a sloppy, book-length attack on Clinton Foundation donors. The book purported (and failed) to show how foundation donations corrupted Clinton's decisions during her time as secretary of state. Media Matters documented nearly two dozen errors and distortions in the book.  

    But that didn't stop key outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post from teaming up with Schweizer and helping to push his lines of attack. At the time, here's how the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza's defended the immediate embrace of Clinton Cash:

    The most foundational principle of covering a presidential campaign (or anything, really) is trying your damnedest to give people the fullest possible picture of the candidates running to represent them.  The more information you have at your disposal then, the better.

    Added Cillizza, "We are information-gatherers at heart."

    So when the issue at hand was donors to the Clinton Foundation, the Washington Post sounded a clarion call, urging reporters to look at the all the information in order to give readers the "fullest possible picture of the candidates running." (And who might be trying to buy their influence.)

    But last weekend, when the issue at hand was Koch summit donors, the Washington Post quietly demurred and apparently concluded not all information needed to be shared with voters.

    It seems clear that the Clinton Foundation feeding frenzy sprang from the media assumption that the Clintons are hiding something, they aren't truthful, and they cannot be trusted. As Vox's Jonathan Allen asserted, detailing the press corps'  "unspoken rules" to covering Hillary, "the media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there's hard evidence otherwise."

    By contrast, what explained the pass given to the Kochs? Was it fueled by an inverse press assumption that the Kochs are forthright, they're honorable men, and of course they play by the rules?

    If donors are deemed the targets of intense media scrutiny, the press should apply the rules fairly to both sides

  • Ernst, Grimes And When Newspaper Editorial Meetings Matter To The D.C. Press

    Democratic Flub Trumps Republican Snub

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Newspaper editorial board meetings have always been a sort of midterm exam for candidates. Shopping for endorsements, it's where they are asked to discuss, in detail, their policy positions and to do so in a setting that isn't conducive to sound bites.

    In Iowa last week, Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst announced she wouldn't answer any questions from the Des Moines Register editorial board. After "much negotiating," according to a Register columnist, the Ernst camp pulled the plug on her scheduled Q&A with the daily, and also avoided meeting with a number of other Iowa newspapers.

    Ernst wouldn't talk about the economy, healthcare, "personhood," national security, guns and the government, foreign affairs, or impeaching President Obama. Ernst wouldn't talk about anything. This was a classic dodge on Ernst's part; an aggressive stiff-arm to the mainstream press. It was an obvious refusal by a Republican candidate to sit and answer questions from local journalists on the eve of an election.

    And so what was the Beltway media's reaction to Ernst's cancellation? Always on the lookout for campaign "gaffes" and relentlessly focused on the "optics" of elections, how did commentators react to Ernst's brazen evasion?

    The press response was subdued and not very critical.

    That low-key response stood in sharp contrast to the campaign fury that erupted in early October when when Kentucky Democratic senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes declined to answer whether she had voted for Barack Obama. That question came amidst her hour-long, October 10, interview with the Louisville Journal-Courier's editorial board, during which time the Democrat discussed the environment, gay marriage, campaign finance reform, the government sequester, abortion rights, and coal mining. (Her opponent, Republican Mitch McConnell, refused to be interviewed by the paper's editors.)

    Grimes' substantive discussion was virtually ignored by the Beltway press, which turned her clumsy Obama question response into a days-long controversy. For instance, Washington Post blogs have referenced the Grimes story (i.e the "fiasco") more than 25 times; including 11 times in the first four days. (Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote an entire column about Grimes' non-answer.) By contrast, the same Post blogs have mentioned the Ernst story only five times so far, according to Nexis, with writer Chris Cillizza actually complimenting the Ernst campaign for canceling its Register interview, suggesting the move was a "smart" one politically.

    Overall, I found more than two-dozen television discussions or references to the Grimes story during a four-day span, from October 10-13, via Nexis. During a similar four-day span following news of Ernst's snub on October 23, I found no television discussions or references to that story. (Note that not every news program is archived by Nexis.)

    So yes, the Democratic candidate who was accused of botching a question during an editorial board interview was pilloried in the press. But the Republican candidate who refused to sit for editorial board meetings was mostly given a pass. (Here's an exception.) Do double standards come any more tightly focused than that?

  • How The Press Is Doing The GOP's Ebola Bidding

    Fear is The Republican Midterm Election Theme

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    As Republicans seek to gain a partisan advantage by ginning up fear about the Ebola virus in preparation for the midterm election cycle, they're getting a major assist from the news media, which seems to be equally anxious to spread anxiety about the virus, and to implicate President Obama for the health scare. At times, Republicans, journalists, and commentators appear to be in complete sync as they market fear and kindle confusion. ("You could feel a shiver of panic coursing through the American body politic this week.")

    The result is a frightening level of misinformation about Ebola and a deep lack of understanding of the virus by most Americans. Indeed, despite weeks of endless coverage, most news consumers still don't understand key facts about Ebola.

    If the news media's job is to educate, and especially to clarify during times of steep public concerns, then the news media have utterly failed during the Ebola threat. And politically, that translates into a win for Republicans because it means there's fertile ground for their paranoia to grow. (Sen. Rand Paul: Ebola is "incredibly contagious.")

    "They have all caught the Ebola bug and are now transmitting the fear it engenders to millions of Americans," lamented a recent Asbury Park (NJ) editorial, chastising the cable news channels. "It turns out that fear-mongering translates not only into dollars and cents for news-gathering organizations, but also allows talking heads to politicize the issue."

    If Republicans want the media to remain relentlessly focused on the anxious Ebola storyline prior to Election Day, they're in luck. Last night, the homepage for the Washington Post featured at least 15 Ebola-related articles and columns. Already this week, the cable news channels have mentioned "Ebola" more than 4,000 times according to TVeyes.com; or roughly 700 on-air references each day. The unfolding crisis is undoubtedly a major news story, but so much of the coverage --particularly on cable news -- has been more focused on fearmongering than solid information. It's a drumbeat that eventually becomes synonymous with fear and uncertainty, which dovetails with GOP's preferred talking point this campaign season.

    And for Republicans, it's not just Ebola. The election season scare strategy that has emerged revolves around portraying the virus as the latest symptom of an America that's in startling decline and without any White House leadership able to deal with the crisis. As the New York Times reported on October 9, what has emerged as the GOP's unifying campaign theme is "decidedly grim." It alleges "President Obama and the Democratic Party run a government that is so fundamentally broken it cannot offer its people the most basic protection from harm."

    Message: Panic looms. We stand exposed. Nobody's in charge. It's worse than you think.

    The truth? "The risk of contracting Ebola is so low in the United States that most people would have to go out of their way to put themselves in any danger," as Medical Daily noted this week. Added one Florida doctor, "I tell people you're more apt to be hit by lightning right now, than you are to get Ebola."

  • Chris Cillizza's Fixation On Hillary Clinton's Wealth

    The Fix Has Devoted At Least 13 Posts To Clinton Wealth In Just 2 Months

    Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN & ALEXANDREA BOGUHN

    Cillizza, Hillary Clinton

    In the past two months, Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza has used his platform at The Fix to obsess over the question of whether Hillary Clinton has sufficiently explained her family's wealth, dismissing Clinton's comments on income inequality while offering conflicting advice on how she should answer the question in a way that satisfies Chris Cillizza and The Washington Post.  

    Cillizza's latest post came in response to an interview Hillary Clinton gave to Fusion TV host Jorge Ramos that aired July 29. "Hillary Clinton still hasn't found a good answer to questions about her wealth," according to the July 29 headline over at The Fix. After crediting GOP opposition research firm American Rising with focusing his attention on Clinton's wealth, Cillizza concluded: "Until she finds three sentences (or so) to button up any/all questions about her wealth, those questions will keep coming. And that's not the way Clinton wants to run-up to her now all-but-certain presidential bid."

    This is the third time in two months that Cillizza has posted a column fixated on Clinton's wealth and his belief that she is struggling to explain it -- and the third time since June 22 that The Fix has turned to America Rising to help define Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, a June NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll found that 55 percent of Americans say that Clinton relates to and understands average Americans.

    "The Clintons are not 'average' people," Cillizza warned just a week before that poll came out. He concluded by advising Clinton to stop talking about her wealth and move on: "Instead of spending her time litigating just how wealthy she is, Clinton should acknowledge her wealth and then spend the vast majority of her rhetorical time making the case that through the policies she has advocated and pursued, she has never lost sight of the middle class." 

    The reality is that Clinton has already done exactly what Cillizza advises; he just largely chooses to dismiss it. When Clinton has been asked about her wealth, she has consistently paired her personal finances with discussing her lifelong advocacy and work on behalf of the poor and middle class.