Matthew Dowd

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  • Broadcast News Widely Covers Anthony Weiner Story, Ignores Abuse Accusations Against Trump Campaign CEO

    Wash. Post, NY Times Also Give More Prominence To Weiner Saga In Print Than Abuse Allegations Against Trump Campaign CEO

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Broadcast network news programs devoted significantly more time to lewd behavior from Anthony Weiner, the husband of an aide to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, than to allegations that Donald Trump's campaign CEO engaged in domestic violence and workplace sexual harassment. The outlets treated the Weiner story as a major campaign issue even though Weiner is playing no direct role in the Clinton campaign.

    Politico reported on August 25 that Trump’s campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon, “was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness following an incident with his then-wife in 1996.” The charges were later dropped, but the police report says that Bannon’s wife claimed that he “pulled at her neck and wrist during an altercation over their finances, and an officer reported witnessing red marks on her neck and wrist to bolster her account.” BuzzFeed on August 29 reported that Bannon had also been accused of sexual harassment by a co-worker while working as an investment banker in the 1990s. 

    On August 29, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, announced that she was separating from Weiner following reports that he had sent lewd photos of himself to another woman.

    One might think media would focus more on the Bannon story, which involves allegations of criminality against the CEO of a presidential campaign, than on the dissolution of the marriage of a candidate's aide. That was not the case.

    ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted more than half an hour of coverage to the Weiner-Abedin story -- roughly 10 minutes for each network -- according to a Media Matters review of their morning and evening news shows (NBC’s Today and Nightly News, ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, and CBS’ CBS This Morning and Evening News) on August 26, August 29, and the morning of August 30. Those same programs devoted only 39 seconds in total to covering either of the Bannon stories, with all of that coverage coming from Good Morning America.

    Two of the nation’s leading newspapers for national political coverage, The New York Times and The Washington Post, similarly gave the Weiner-Abedin story more emphasis in their print editions. Both papers devoted 1,400-word front page articles to their separation. By contrast, the Times placed its August 26 story on Bannon’s alleged abuse on page 13, along with a portion of a page 10 August 27 piece and a single sentence of a page 1 August 27 piece. The Post devoted a large portion of a page A04 article on August 27 to the allegation. Neither paper covered the sexual harassment allegation in their respective print editions.

    Not only was the amount of coverage uneven, but in its coverage the broadcast news shows repeatedly framed the Abedin-Weiner story as something that could harm Clinton’s campaign as well as recall for voters Clinton’s own marital problems, a frame that wasn’t applied to the Bannon story. 

    NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell on Today claimed “of course” there would be political fallout for Clinton, connecting the Abedin story to Clinton not having a press conference and suggesting that it would remind voters “about Hillary Clinton's own choices 20 years ago, 19 years ago,” an apparent reference to Clinton’s decision not to leave her husband after he had an affair.

    CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell on Evening News said it was “about the last thing Hillary Clinton's campaign needed, a scandal involving the husband of her top aide Huma Abedin.” O’Donnell also asked CBS political director John Dickerson if the story “change[d]” things for Clinton and her campaign. 

    ABC correspondent Cecilia Vega on Good Morning America noted that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attempted to turn the separation “into a political attack,” adding that Trump “is not holding back, so is the Clinton campaign worried that this will be a distraction for them?” ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd also claimed the story “is a problem for the Hillary campaign” because “independents out there look at it and say, ‘Do we really want to go back to all this again?’”

    The Times and the Post’s coverage made the same connection. The Times alleged the Weiner story “threatens to remind voters about the troubles in the Clintons’ own marriage over the decades” and “evokes the debates that erupted over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of the [Monica] Lewinsky affair.” The Post also pointed to “a different ending to the parallel between Bill and Hillary Clinton and each wife’s public embarrassment by the sexual indiscretions of her politician husband.”

    The only mention of either Bannon story on broadcast news shows was during Good Morning America’s August 26 edition, which treated Bannon’s alleged spousal abuse as a passing issue. ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl briefly stated that the domestic violence allegation could cause “more turmoil ahead for the Trump campaign CEO,” but he didn't mention any impact on the overall campaign or Trump specifically. ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos also briefly brought up the domestic violence allegations with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to ask if Trump was “aware of [the allegation], is he OK with it,” to which Conway claimed ignorance and Stephanopoulos quickly moved on. 

    The coverage of Bannon’s alleged abuse in the Times and the Post​, while given less prominence than its Weiner-Abedin coverage, did mention a potential negative impact to Trump’s campaign. The Times claimed that while Bannon’s appointment was “part of an effort to reset a candidacy that has stumbled with minority and female voters,” Bannon “brings to the post his own bumpy background that includes misdemeanor charges of domestic violence.” In an article the next day, the Times noted the abuse allegation has “created distractions for Mr. Trump’s campaign and raised questions about [Trump’s] management style.” The Post also made the same case in an article that same day. However, none of this coverage, in broadcast or print, noted that the Bannon allegations came on the heels of other women claiming Trump had sexually harassed them in the workplace.

  • Media Stunned As Cruz's Non-Endorsement Tears Apart RNC Convention: “What A Disaster”

    Media Note Cruz “Body Slammed” Trump’s Convention And “Ruined” The Night

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY, NICK FERNANDEZ & BRENDAN KARET

    Media figures expressed disbelief over Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) refusal to endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention, calling him a “sore loser” who “ruined” the night.

  • Conservative Media Are Making Violent Anti-Trump Protests Clinton’s Responsibility

    Clinton Campaign Has Denounced Anti-Trump Violence, While Trump Himself Has Regularly Instigated Violence

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Right-wing media figures are calling on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to condemn violence that broke out at presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign rally, ignoring that her campaign denounced the violence the night of the protests. Conservative media figures previously defended Trump when violent protests broke out at his rallies, despite many major media outlets noting that Trump’s rhetoric has incited and encouraged the violence.

  • Media Mock The GOP's "Ridiculous Manifesto" Of Presidential Debate Demands

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY & CRISTIANO LIMA

    Media commentators criticized the Republican presidential candidates' demands to media sponsors for future presidential primary debates, noting that because debates are "a chief means for Americans to hear and weigh the ideas of the candidates," they're "too important to be guided" by a "ridiculous manifesto" of demands from candidates.

  • Media have excuses for Sestak obsession, not reasons

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Long after many reporters insisted that if only the White House revealed whether Joe Sestak was offered a job the story would go away, reporters are getting ever-more-creative in their attempts to justify covering what is quite clearly not a scandalous act. Two excuses dominate: The Obama camp's promise to be more ethical than predecessors, and its promises of transparency.

    Marc Ambinder (who, I should note, has been good about making clear that there's no legal issue here) explains the first:

    This is the reason why ethics lawyers can read the text of the statutes, which seem to be clear, and conclude that no prosecutor in his or her right mind would ever bring a case against a White House for doing what the Obama White House did. However, since the Obama White House holds itself as an avatar of ethical excellence, it might have to hold itself to a higher standard than other White Houses. That is an optical problem, not a legal one.

    First of all, every incoming administration promises to be more ethical than its predecessors. Remember George W. Bush's pledge to "restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office"? Despite that pledge, reporters could barely pretend to care when Bush's administration outer a covert CIA operative, or when they tried to turn U.S. attorneys into opposition researchers with the power to issue indictments. Despite that pledge, reporters had to be dragged kicking and screaming to (briefly) cover evidence that the Bush administration had lied its way into war. And despite that pledge, reporters certainly didn't care when Karl Rove reportedly offered someone a job to get him to drop out of a campaign.

    But things are different now: The Obama administration may have offered someone a job to get him to drop out of a campaign! Oh. Wait…

    Second: It's one thing to say the White House promised a higher level of ethical excellence and should be held to that promise, and another to invent, after the fact, ethical transgressions that have never before in the history of the republic been considered ethical transgressions. Yes, the Obama team said they'd be ethically excellent (as does every incoming administration) and yes, they should be held to that promise (as should every administration.)

    But that has nothing to do with offering Joe Sestak a job, because offering Joe Sestak a job is not ethically suspect. (It may be politically suspect, but that's a different kettle of fish.) Nobody considered it ethically suspect when previous presidents did it, and nobody has explained why it should be considered ethically suspect now. It's like criticizing Obama for failing to live up to his promises of ethical behavior because he wears a blue shirt. It doesn't make any sense, because you haven't established that there's anything wrong with wearing a blue shirt.

    The fact that nobody considered such job offers when previous administrations made them brings us to Matthew Dowd on ABC's This Week:

    I think this issue is - it is - it is a political issue. And it does hurt his brand because he came to Washington and said I'm going to change things. I'm going to do things differently. I'm not going to be like Bush and Cheney. We're going to do a whole new politics. We're going to bring people together. We're not going to do all - we're not going to politicize things. And then all of the sudden their excuse now in this thing, everybody does it, so we do it. That's a problem for his brand.

    That would be a very good point, if the Obama White House was currently saying "It's cool that we outted a covert CIA agent and lied our way into war, because the Bush administration did it, too." But that isn't what the Obama White House, or anyone else, is saying. What they're saying is that nobody complained when previous administrations of both parties did the same thing, because there's nothing wrong with it. That's quite different. It's the difference between "one person previously did it, and there was widespread outrage" and "everyone does it and nobody complains, because there's nothing wrong with it." The difference between "Yeah, I have brown hair; so does half the country" and "Yeah, I killed him and put his head in the freezer; so did Jeffrey Dahmer." Not the same. Different. Curiously, the implication of Dowd's criticism is that any time the Obama White House does something the Bush White House did, that's inappropriate. Curious, that is, coming from one of Bush's chief strategists.

    Finally, there's the "they promised transparency" excuse. Yes, the Obama campaign promised transparency. No, that was not a promise to reveal every word of every conversation everyone ever has in the White House. No, nobody thought that's what it meant at the time. The tendency of some reporters to invoke the transparency pledge, and to suggest that it has been broken, every time they want to know something is dishonest and in bad faith.*

    These two justifications have something in common: they're all invoked to get around the sticky little problem created by the fact that there's nothing wrong with offering Joe Sestak a job. Rather than explain why it would be unethical to do so, reporters say "well, they said they'd be more ethical, so they should be." OK, fine: How haven't they been? What is unethical about offering Joe Sestak a job? Nothing. What's wrong with refusing to discuss details of a totally legal job offer? "Well … they said they'd be transparent!" OK, fine: Did anyone ever interpret that to mean they'd disclose all details of all job offers? Of course not.

    These are not substantive criticisms of the White House. They are excuses to prolong the story. Those are the kinds of things you expect from the political opposition. Why are they coming from journalists?

    * I'll happily retract that statement just as soon as anyone can point me to any comment made by Dan Balz or any other reporter in 2008 indicating that Barack Obama had pledged to make public every word of every conversation anyone acting on his behalf has with anyone about any job.