Media Ethics

Tags ››› Media Ethics
  • Yale Historian Compares America To Nazi Germany, Calling Bannon’s Media Interactions A Major Sign Of The Threat

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In an interview with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder said the threat posed by President Donald Trump means “we have at most a year to defend the Republic” and highlighted the role chief strategist Stephen Bannon is playing in that threat, including the administration’s interaction with the media.

    The Trump presidency has created no shortage of concerns about the stability of the republic. Trump has waged an unrelenting war on the press for more than a year, personally attacking dozens of journalists, falsely decrying entire news organizations as “fake news,” and even going so far as to shout down CNN’s Jim Acosta for asking a question at a press conference. It’s not just Trump, either -- Bannon, formerly of Breitbart.com, attacked the mainstream media as “the opposition party,” demanding that media “keep its mouth shut” and listen to Trump. Bannon is also known for formerly running a website that pushes pro-white nationalist viewpoints, dog-whistling to neo-Nazis, and infecting the current administration with anti-immigrant policies.

    In the February 7 interview, Snyder commented on Bannon’s interaction with the media specifically, noting that he “says in essence that he misleads the public and the media deliberately” and that Bannon’s goal is “the extinction of the whole political system.” Snyder also says the media is “worse” in America now than it was during Nazi Germany, because it is “very polarized and very concentrated.” In addition, Snyder explains that Bannon’s use of the term “opposition” when describing the media is an indicator of talk about an “authoritarian state” because it suggests some type of regime change:

    How similar is the situation between Germany of the 1930s and today’s United States?

    Of course, not everything is similar. Some things are better now than they were in the 1930s but some things are worse. The media is worse, I would say. It is very polarized and it is very concentrated. In Germany before the state shut down German newspapers, there was authentic variety that we don’t have now. People in the 1930s generally had longer attention spans than we do. On the other side, the United States is a larger country, with pockets of wealth distributed widely, and it is more connected to the world. The main advantage that we have is that we can learn from the 1930s. Again, it’s very important to stress that history does not repeat. But it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance. 

    [...]

    President Trump’s political strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that he wants to „make life as exciting as it was in the 1930s“. The first two weeks have shown how big his influence is, it seems much bigger than Reince Priebus’s or Jared Kushner’s.

    I can’t speak to intra-White House conflicts. I can only say that Mr. Trump’s inaugural address was extremely ideological. During the campaign he used the slogan “America First” and then was informed that this was the name of a movement that tried to prevent the United States from fighting Nazi Germany and was associated with nativists and white supremacists. He claimed then not to have known that. But in the inaugural address he made “America First” his central theme, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s. 

    When Bannon calls himself a „Leninist“, do Americans know what is he talking about?

    No, they usually have no idea. It is a good question. Americans have this idea that comes from Jefferson and the American Revolution that you have to rebel every so often. And they sometimes don’t make the distinction between a rebellion against injustice and the extinction of the whole political system, which is what Bannon says that he is after. The American Revolution actually preserved ideas from Britain: the rule of law being the most important. The whole justification of the American Revolution was that the British were not living up to their own principles, were not including Americans in their own system. In a broad way that that was also the argument of the civil rights movement: the system fails itself when it does not extend equal rights to all citizens. So there can be resistance and even revolution which is about meeting standards rather than about simple destruction. What Bannon says correctly about the Bolsheviks was that they aimed to completely destroy an old regime. We can slip from one to the other very easily, from rebelliousness to a complete negation of the system. Most Americans had a rule of law state for most of their lives, African Americans are an exception, and so most Americans think this will be there forever. They don’t get that a “disruption” can actually destroy much of what they take for granted. They have no notion what it means to destroy the state and how their lives would look like if the rule of law would no longer exist. I find it frightening that people who talk about the destruction of the American state are now in charge of the American state.

    [...]

    The White House statement for the Holocaust Day on January 27 didn’t mention Jews. At first it looked like a mistake but now it is official that it was intentional.

    The Holocaust reference is very important on our side of the Atlantic. If Americans have a reference point in world history, it is precisely the Holocaust, the Holocaust and let’s say Normandy, the Second World War, are the one aperture into a broader history, one where republics fall and extremes triumph. So if Steve Bannon turns the Holocaust into talk about “A lot of people have suffered” what is happening is that he is closing that aperture. The next step is to say that mainly Americans are the victims. History then dies completely and we are trapped in myth.

    [...]

    When Bannon calls the press the main „opposition party“ that should make everyone concerned. This is not only intended to cheer up Trump supporters.

    When you say that the press is the opposition, than you are advocating a regime change in the United States. When I am a Republican and say the Democrats are the opposition, we talk about our system. If I say the government is one party and the press is the opposition, then I talk about an authoritarian state. This is regime change.

    Last week Trump called those who take part in demonstrations “thugs” and “paid protestors”. This doesn’t show respect for First Amendment right, it sounds more like Putin.

    That is exactly what the Russian leadership does. The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the Republic. The point is to bring down the Republic. You can disagree with them. but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: „We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.“ When the president says that it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the Republic. You are also seducing people into a world of permanent internet lying and [away] from their own experiences with other people. Getting out to protest, this is something real and I would say something patriotic. Part of the new authoritarianism is to get people to prefer fiction and inaction to reality and action. People sit in their chairs, read the tweet and repeat the clichés: “yes, they are thugs” instead of “it is normal to get out in the streets for what you believe.” He is trying to teach people a new behavior: You just sit right where you are, read what I say and nod your head. That is the psychology of regime change.

    Today’s media environment is very different from the 1930s, everything happens so fast.

    This is part of what contemporary authoritarians do: They overwhelm you with bad news and try to make you depressed and say with resignation: “Well, what can i do?”. I think it is better to limit yourself. Read the news for half an hour a day, but don’t spend the whole day obsessing about it. Americans have to pick one thing to be confident about, and then act on it. If you care about and know about refugees, the press, global warming – choose one and talk with people around you about it. Nobody can do everything but everyone can do a little bit. And people doing their little bit will meet others doing the same, and the depression lifts.

  • Kellyanne Conway's Embarrassing Interview With Jake Tapper Confirms The “Questions About Her Credibility”

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway has drawn criticism from many in the media for having a tenuous relationship with the truth, which led to CNN’s refusal to interview her on the February 5 edition of State of the Union. Conway’s interview on the February 7 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper serves as an example of why Conway’s credibility has become an issue that news outlets should take into consideration before booking her as a guest.

    On February 6, Conway replied to a New York Times report that CNN had declined to have her on State of the Union due to “serious questions about her credibility” by tweeting that she “could do no live Sunday shows this week BC of family.” CNN replied that Conway “was offered to SOTU on Sunday by the White House. We passed. Those are the facts.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer then shared with the media his “understanding” that CNN had “walked back” the tweet, prompting the network to correct Spicer by stating that “CNN was clear, on the record about our concerns about Kellyanne Conway’s credibility … We have not ‘retracted’ nor ‘walked back’ those comments.”

    [Twitter, 2/6/17]

    [Twitter, 2/7/17]

    Conway did appear on the February 7 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, for an interview that only confirmed her credibility issues. Despite Tapper’s pointed questioning, Conway repeatedly ducked the issues to promote the administration’s misinformation, and complain about being attacked by the media.

    When Tapper challenged her on President Trump’s baseless assertion that CNN and mainstream media did not cover major terror attacks, Conway replied by saying Trump really meant that “we just can’t allow ourselves to become inured” to terrorism. Tapper acknowledged “that’s lovely spin, but that’s not what he was saying,” reasserting that Trump accused the media of “some sort of agenda.” Conway replied by attacking Hillary Clinton and discussing the alleged importance of saying the words “radical Islamic terrorism.”

    Tapper asked Conway why Trump was so quick to comment on an attempted terror attack at the Louvre that did not kill anyone, but still had not commented on an attack by an alleged Trump supporter at a Quebec mosque that killed six. Conway did not respond to the question. Rather, she retorted that Trump “believes his executive order is not just within his authority but also his duty and responsibility to do what he sees best.”

    Tapper then asked Conway about Trump’s claim of “the murder rate being at its highest level in 47 years,” a claim that is “not true,” which Tapper highlighted as part of “a larger campaign … to undermine the credibility of everybody in the news media, except for certain supportive outlets.” Conway responded with a complaint about her treatment in the media, saying, “I’m now being attacked by the media, including networks that are familiar to you, and I’m just going to keep soldiering on.” When Tapper again pressed her on the White House’s “war on people who are providing information,” she replied that “it has to go both ways,” and that some coverage “doesn't have a great deal of respect, I think, for the office of the president.”

    Kellyanne Conway’s embarrassing interview was filled with more examples of misleading spin, joining “alternative facts” and the nonexistent “Bowling Green Massacre” as the latest examples of lies and misinformation Trump’s “propaganda minister” exploits to “barrel right past the boundaries of truth.” Kellyanne Conway’s media appearances prove that CNN is right to be wary of her credibility issues. Other media outlets should take note.

  • Online Outlet Frequently Cited By Trump And His Team Smears Mosque Where Six People Were Massacred, Tries To Link To Terrorists

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Gateway Pundit, an online media outlet that is repeatedly cited and praised by President Trump and those in his inner circle, smeared a Canadian mosque just days after a terrorist shooting attack left six Muslim worshipers dead and eight wounded on January 29 by making dubious claims that the mosque has “strong ties to terrorism.” 

    The alleged shooter, identified as 27-year-old white student Alexandre Bissonnette, was known for “far-right views” and had expressed support for anti-immigrant groups and figures, including Trump. He has been described as a “very right-wing and ultra-nationalist white supremacist” by people who knew him. 

    In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, Gateway Pundit reported that the shooter had yelled an Arabic phrase in an attempt to insinuate the shooter was Muslim. The outlet went on to attack media outlets who had not reported this unconfirmed information. After the original attempt to smear Muslims fell apart, the outlet switched tactics and responded to the tragedy by attacking the mosque with a headline using all-caps styling on “MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD” and “TERRORIST” and asserting that it “has strong ties to terrorism.” Meanwhile, a search for the shooter's name using Gateway Pundit’s search function returns zero results.

    The report cited by Gateway Pundit to prove links to terrorism claimed that the mosque was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood due to its founding by local members of the Muslim Student Association, a frequently maligned Islamic student organization located in colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. However, there is no evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim Student Association are “actively affiliated,” and the only link between the two is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood “helped establish the [Muslim Student Association] more than 50 years ago.” 

    Adding to the concern of the often absurdly wrong Gateway Pundit is that its influence has greatly risen under Trump, with owner Jim Hoft announcing on January 19 that the outlet would have its first correspondent in the White House. Trump himself regularly tweets at or about the outlet, including praising it “for reporting the truth.” Numerous members of his team such as counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and White House director of social media Dan Scavino Jr. have also tweeted about the outlet, as well as Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr

  • After America, Breitbart Plans To Infect Politics Across Europe

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After the 2016 election, Breitbart.com announced its plan to expand into France and Germany, and Italy is reportedly now a target as well. Breitbart’s current European bureau, Breitbart London, appears to be in charge of the website’s Europe content and has a close relationship with the nativist UK Independence Party (UKIP). That, coupled with its anti-immigrant content, suggests that the site will try to spread its nativism across Europe by continuing to stoke racist sentiment and allying with anti-immigrant political parties.

  • Rumored Ouster Of White House Press Corps Was Months In The Making

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON, JARED HOLT, CYDNEY HARGIS & ZACHARY PLEAT

    According to reports, the incoming Trump administration has given “serious consideration” to the idea of removing the permanent press corps from the White House. This potential exclusion of the press from White House access has been months in the making, with President-elect Donald Trump, his political allies, and his right-wing media sycophants clamoring for the next administration to restrict access for outlets that have criticized his policies and statements and attacking the press in general. Meanwhile, the president-elect has been building up alternative, pro-Trump outlets.

  • The Media Keep Failing To Publish Accurate Headlines About Trump: An Updated List

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Before and since the election, media outlets have repeatedly failed to write headlines that adequately contextualize President-elect Donald Trump’s lies. Simply echoing his statements normalizes his behavior and can spread disinformation, particularly given the high proportion of people who read only headlines. Below is an ongoing list documenting the media’s failure to contextualize Trump’s actions in headlines and sometimes on social media. Some of the initial versions were subsequently altered (and these are marked with an asterisk), but many of the updates still failed to adequately contextualize Trump’s remarks.

  • The Media Outlets Poised To Become Trump’s Personal Propaganda Machine

    The President-Elect’s Media Allies Are Already Helping Him Control Narratives And Publicly Attack Enemies

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After the 2016 presidential election, President-elect Donald Trump is coalescing a network of supportive right-wing media outlets, including an online publication owned by his son-in-law, a supermarket tabloid, and a new 24-hour news outlet that has been described as “Trump TV.” Since the primaries, these right-wing media outlets have helped push Trump's agenda and have attacked his political opponents.

  • Trump's Son-In-Law Reportedly Moving To Sell The Observer After Using It As A Campaign Weapon for Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is reportedly trying to sell The New York Observer, the media outlet which he used during the presidential campaign to give Trump positive coverage throughout the 2016 election.

    Reuters reported that Kushner, who owned The Observer while simultaneously advising Trump during his presidential bid, is hoping to sell the news site “so that he can focus on his budding political career.”

    Although The Observer did not officially endorse Trump during the presidential campaign, the editorial board did endorse him during the primary campaign. The Observer staff was involved in advising and even writing speeches for candidate Trump, while the outlet itself pedaled pro-Trump content. This only confirmed the outlet’s cozy relationship with the Republican candidate, which led one staffer to resign.

    While Kushner’s role in the Trump campaign has raised concerns, this is another signal that Kushner is using his father-in-law’s election for financial gain and to gain political clout. From the December 21 Reuters report: 

    President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is looking to sell his newspaper, The New York Observer, the trade newspaper Women's Wear Daily reported on Wednesday.

    [...]

    Kushner may be selling the Observer to focus on his political career, according to the report. His wife, Ivanka Trump, is the president-elect's eldest daughter. Both he and his wife advised Trump during his successful presidential campaign. 

  • Trump Campaign Made A Deal With Media Organization For “Straighter Coverage” During Election

    Trump’s Son-In-Law Admits Trump Team “Struck A Deal With Sinclair Broadcast Group”

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Donald Trump’s campaign made a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting Group for more favorable media coverage during the election, adding to the growing lists of conflicts between Trump and the media.

    President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a key member of his transition team, “struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage” for Trump in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign,” according to Politico.

    On December 16 Politico reported Sinclair Broadcast Group promised Kushner they “would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary” using their “television stations across the country in many swing states.” Scott Livingston, vice president of news at Sinclair, claimed the deal was aimed at “hear[ing] more directly from candidate on the issue instead of hearing all the spin and all the rhetoric”:

    Donald Trump's campaign struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage, his son-in-law Jared Kushner told business executives Friday in Manhattan.

    Kushner said the agreement with Sinclair, which owns television stations across the country in many swing states and often packages news for their affiliates to run, gave them more access to Trump and the campaign, according to six people who heard his remarks.

    In exchange, Sinclair would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary, Kushner said. Kushner highlighted that Sinclair, in states like Ohio, reaches a much wider audience — around 250,000 listeners — than networks like CNN, which reach somewhere around 30,000.

    [...]

    “Our promise was to give all candidates an opportunity to voice their position share their position with our viewers. Certainly we presented an opportunity so that Mr. Trump could clearly state his position on the key issues,” Livingston said. “Our commitment to our viewers is to go beyond podium, beyond the rhetoric. We’re all about tracking the truth and telling the truth and that’s typically missing in most political coverage.”

    A Trump spokesman said the deal included the interviews running across every affiliate but that no money was exchanged between the network and the campaign. The spokesman said the campaign also worked with other media outlets that had affiliates, like Hearst, to try and spread their message.

    “It was a standard package, but an extended package, extended story where you’d hear more directly from candidate on the issue instead of hearing all the spin and all the rhetoric,” Livingston said.

    [...]

    Sinclair, a Maryland based company, has been labeled in some reports as a conservative leaning local news network. Local stations in the past have been directed to air “must run” stories produced by Sinclair’s Washington bureau that were generally critical of the Barack Obama administration and offered perspectives primarily from conservative think tanks, the Washington Post reported in 2014.

    During the campaign, Donald Trump’s campaign treated the press with unprecedented hostility. As president-elect, he is using media allies like Fox’s Sean Hannity to build support for keeping the mainstream press out of Trump’s way.

    Kushner’s deal with Sinclair Broadcasting Group, an organization with proven right-wing leanings, reveals yet another way the Trump campaign manipulated national and local media to stem the tide of disastrous coverage from Trump’s myriad scandals.