Media Ethics

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  • Fox News Media Critic Has The Worst Take On Trump Being Normalized

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz lambasted the media for failing to “normalize” President-elect Donald Trump, but nothing about Trump’s campaign or his transition is normal -- nor should the media consider it as such. 

    Kurtz’s November 20 column on FoxNews.com criticized “many in the media, mostly on the liberal side,” who say Trump “should not be normalized,” which Kurtz incorrectly interpreted as a denial of the validity of the presidential election results. To back up this assertion, Kurtz wildly claimed that the media's valid questions about many of Trump’s actions are akin to the racist attacks that began about President Obama's faith and birthplace after he was elected, many on Kurtz’s own network. Kurtz’s strawman argument ignores the conduct that demands Trump not be normalized: his campaign of bigotry and division and his cabinet appointees rumored and actual who despise the press, have long histories of hatred, and, in one case, support white nationalist ideology.

    Trump’s policies and behavior are not normal and should not be treated as such, and it is media’s role to hold elected officials accountable. Trump’s team has already soft-pitched internment camps as “precedent” for a Muslim registry, and Kurtz’s Fox News colleagues are already defending the fundamentally anti-American idea. Not only that, but Trump’s transition has raised eyebrows about “mind-boggling” conflicts of interest with the Trump Organization, potential self-enrichment by Trump’s children, and Trump’s extremely disturbing habit of ditching the press as president-elect to maneuver in secrecy, which Kurtz already said is not a problem. This is not normal.

    Trump’s cabinet is similarly filling up with people who espouse horrific beliefs. His appointees so far includes a national security adviser who shares fake news and tells people “fear of Muslims is rational,” a chief strategist who is described as a “white nationalist” by opponents and supporters alike, and an attorney general who was once denied a federal judgeship for being too racist, a fact that Kurtz’s Fox colleagues repeatedly dismissed. Other potential appointees include a bigoted press secretary who hates the press, a commerce secretary who wants to know “what’s with all the hoods in the hizzy,” and a homeland security secretary who calls civil rights activists “primitive,” “unmanageable misfits.” This is not normal.

    When media outlets resist “normalizing” Trump, they are resisting the normalization of racism, Islamophobia, sexism, homophobia, and other types of division and discrimination present in his growing administration. Many outlets, however, are already failing this test. When Trump’s hostilities toward women and minorities are paired with his regular threats against the free press, the media’s role in naming bigotry wherever it is found -- even in the White House -- is more important than ever.

  • Bloomberg Announces The End Of Mark Halperin’s Daily TV Show

    Bonafide Trump Apologist Mark Halperin Defied His Own Journalistic Standards When Covering Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Bloomberg politics show, With All Due Respect, will end daily broadcasts on December 2. Halperin used his platform on Bloomberg, which was re-broadcast daily by MSNBC, to defend then-candidate Donald Trump.

    The Huffington Post reports that a staff memo announced the show’s cancellation on December 2, but the two will host a four-hour special previewing Trump’s Inauguration on January 20. Both co-hosts are reportedly in discussions to “play a role at Bloomberg” as contributors and columnists.

    Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s afternoon politics show on Bloomberg TV, “With All Due Respect,” will end following coverage of Donald Trump’s inauguration, according to a staff memo.

    Halperin and Heilemann, who joined in May 2014 and served as co-managing editors of Bloomberg Politics, will continue to host the show daily until Dec. 2. Bloomberg will produce four hourlong specials previewing Trump’s presidency and then cover the event on Jan. 20.

    The two journalists will cease day-to-day roles with the company, but according to the memo are in discussions to “play a role at Bloomberg as contributors and columnists.”

    Halperin joined Bloomberg in May 2014 for reportedly $1 million and has come under intense scrutiny throughout the 2016 election cycle for his role as a bonafide Trump apologist. Halperin’s embarrassing shilling for Trump included his insistence that Trump’s racist attacks on the American judge of Mexican descent weren’t actually racist because “Mexico isn’t a race,” criticizing The New York Times for responding to Trump’s threat to take legal action against them, and brushing off Trump’s reluctance to accept the election results as a concern of “elites.” Halperin even praised the “impressive resume” of Trump adviser and white nationalist ally Stephen Bannon. Heilemann and Halperin also conducted an interview with Trump on a Zamboni where they asked him how much bacon he eats and whether or not he knows how to skate and during a campaign trip to Iowa, Halperin received helicopter ride from Trump:

    More recently, Halperin failed to live up to the standards he had set for other journalists by giving Trump a shameless softball interview in which he failed to ask him about his hidden tax returns – an issue that Halperin had previously said journalists were “obligated” to ask Trump about every chance they got. The interview, described as “truly laughable,” looked even worse in hindsight when several days later Halperin challenged the press “to do a lot of soul-searching about its failure to pursue a lot of these Trump stories.”

    In 2006, Halperin claimed that the best economic model to ensure a TV show’s survival is to follow the Fox News model and “make sure conservatives find your product appealing.” That model seems to be working for Halperin who despite losing his show, has received movie deals, book deals, and continues to be one of the most visible political commentators in America.

  • Journalists Condemn CNN's Lewandowski Embarrassment After Trump Campaign Manager's "#teamwork" Tweet

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    CNN’s ethical dilemma over its employment of Corey Lewandowski, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, as a political analyst was on display once again when current campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tweeted a picture of her and Lewandowski with the caption “#teamwork #NH.”

    CNN’s use of on-air Trump surrogates has drawn widespread condemnation, with media critics pointing out that the practice has undercut the “work of [CNN’s] journalists.” Despite these concerns, CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker has stood by the network’s decision to give Trump surrogates a platform to spread lies and derogatory rhetoric, claiming that CNN has a responsibility “to represent those 13-14 million voters who have voted for” Trump, rather than to provide viewers with accurate analysis.

    Lewandowski has been at the center of CNN’s ethical dilemma, with many criticizing the network for employing him as an analyst while he was still receiving payments from the Trump campaign, advising the Trump campaign, working on debate prep for the Trump campaign, traveling with the Trump campaign, and campaigning with Trump.

    A week after calling on the “@CNN Dream Team” of Trump surrogates to “stay strong,” on November 4, current Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tweeted a picture of her, press secretary Hope Hicks, and Lewandowski, captioning the tweet “#teamwork.” The tweet spurred criticism from members of the media, with The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple saying it “should shame everyone at CNN” and noting that “now we know that officially and unequivocally, the Trump campaign regards a paid CNN commentator as part of the team.” Others called the tweet -- and what it signifies about the relationship between a CNN analyst and the Trump campaign -- “totally inappropriate.”

    Sign Media Matters petition and tell CNN to cut ties with Corey Lewandowski immediately.

  • Fox News Scandalizes Clinton Campaign For Their “Heads Up” About Publicly Available Information

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News is falsely claiming that a Justice Department official shared “inside information” with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to delegitimize the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server that found no grounds for prosecution. In fact, the information in question was publicly available.

    Fox News chief national correspondent Ed Henry claimed that there is “a possible conflict of interest in the FBI probe” into Clinton’s server Assistant U.S. Attorney General Peter Kadzik emailed Clinton campaign manager John Podesta in May 2015 -- in a stolen email WikiLeaks recently released -- to share “inside information” that the head of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice would testify before a House Judiciary Committee meeting, potentially about Clinton’s emails. Henry claimed that Kadzik was “trying to hide” his “heads up” from “public record” by sending it from Kadzik’s private email address to Podesta’s private address. From the November 2 edition of Happening Now:

    ED HENRY: You were just playing Donald Trump talking about Peter Kadzik. He's somebody who's the assistant attorney general -- big job at the Justice Department, overseeing congressional relations. He was part of informing Congress about the fact that this FBI probe was essentially back on, questions because of that dinner he had with John Podesta, the previous relationship representing him, and now WikiLeaks has a new email. This one as well from 2015, in which we see Kadzik giving what he called a “heads up” to John Podesta. 

    [...]

    So, look, this was someone who had inside information about what was going on. He's giving the Clinton campaign a heads up about the State Department emails. And guess what? He did not send it on his Justice Department email. That would have been a public record. He sent it from his Gmail to John Podesta's Gmail; the only way we know is because of WikiLeaks. But they were trying to hide this, Heather.

    But Henry’s suggestion of wrongdoing fails to note that information about the House hearing in question -- and all witnesses scheduled to testify, including the subject of Kadzik’s “heads up,” Benjamin Mizer of the Civil Division -- was publicly posted on House.gov, as the details about all public House hearings are. Bloomberg Politics’ Ben Brody noted that “Kadzik was alerting Podesta to public events” because “the Judiciary Committee held an open hearing that day, and a new filing in the court case” was made “a day earlier.”

    This is not the first time that Fox News has sought to create a scandal based on communications from Kadzik; Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy pushed the false conservative claim that Kadzik was “overseeing” the FBI’s email review when in fact, his responsibility is communicating with Congress about the investigation when appropriate. 

  • Trump Backed Out Of Local Interview After Florida Reporter Refused To Provide Questions In Advance

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Donald Trump backed out of an interview with a Jacksonville, Florida reporter after she refused to provide the campaign with the interview questions in advance.

    Action News Jax reporter Jenna Bourne claimed that the Trump campaign reached out to her on October 24 and requested “a list of questions”ahead of a scheduled interview with the candidate. Bourne refused to provide the campaign with the specific questions in advance, instead sending a list of general topics, including Marco Rubio, Hispanic Florida voters, and Refugees. She provided her half of the email exchange on Twitter, and recounted her communications to FloridaPolitics.com who described her as a “tenacious reporter” with a “no holds barred style” to questioning:

    Jenna Bourne of Action News Jax claims to have found herself spiked, for not giving the questions to Trump’s media relations person upon demand.

    […]

    Bourne was told that Trump’s campaign contacted her station, wanting to know who was conducting the interview.

    Action News Jax said it was to be Bourne.

    From there, the Trump campaign reached out over the weekend, and asked for a “list of questions” on Monday.

    Bourne, after consulting with station management, sent a few “general topics.”

    “We agreed that was the right course of action,” Bourne said.

    The topics included Marco Rubio, “diplomacy in the White House,” “Hispanic Florida voters,” and “Refugees.”

    From there, Bourne relates, the campaign “kind of just ghosted me.”

    At the rally later on Monday, Bourne received conflicting narratives, ranging from a denial that the interview had been scheduled, to hearing that a “decision hadn’t been made.”

     

    Bourne waited … and waited … but it “just never happened,” even as another local Jacksonville TV outlet was approached for its interview.

    UPDATE: Trump campaign senior communications advisor Jason Miller later refused to appear on Fox News’ The Kelly File after asking host Megyn Kelly if she would question him about the latest sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump. When Kelly said it could be brought up, he cancelled the interview.

  • Media Critics: CNN’s Use Of Pro-Trump Surrogates Undercuts The Network’s Journalism

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Media critics say CNN’s use of paid pro-Trump surrogates has undercut the network’s journalism and the “goal of informing its audience.”

    After the third and final presidential debate, Trump surrogates scrambled to spin Donald Trump’s statement that he may not accept the results of the election, putting forward a litany of absurd claims. On CNN, that role was filled by the network’s roster of paid contributors who were specifically hired for their willingness to defend Trump.

    New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen criticized the “candidate surrogate” system CNN invested in during this campaign cycle, explaining that CNN’s “Surrogates are unwilling to defend Trump, so they change him into a man more defensible.” He added that because CNN’s Trump surrogates frequently attempt to mislead the network’s audience, CNN has “wasted our time, undermined the work of their journalists, and made the election-year discussion more opaque [than] it would have been if they had never invited these people on set.”

    The Columbia Journalism Review’s David Uberti similarly wrote that having the Trump surrogates on-air to spin the widely condemned remarks made by Trump during the debate “overstepped CNN’s reporting and undercut its purported goal of informing its audience”:

    The consensus headline from the third and final presidential debate was Republican candidate Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the 2016 election results. It was a stunning rebuke of American political norms from the nominee of a major political party, and it quickly dominated coverage online Wednesday night and in major print newspapers Thursday morning.The Associated Press’ lede said Trump is “threatening to upend a fundamental pillar of American democracy.”

    At CNN, however, confusion initially reigned. The network’s journalists expressed shock at Trump’s comments within seconds of the debate’s conclusion. “One of the most stunning things I’ve ever heard in a presidential debate, ever,” said Jake Tapper, the network’s chief Washington correspondent.

    […]

    But pro-Trump contributors attempted to muddle this point during a panel discussion after the debate, when viewership was likely highest. Their baseless speculation that the election might somehow be rigged overstepped CNN’s reporting and undercut its purported goal of informing its audience. The comments, which drew stern rebuttals from other CNN on-air talent, highlight how the network’s pursuit of the appearance of objectivity in 2016 has distorted its final product on television. It also provides a clear example of how the channel’s model puts CNN journalists in the awkward position of fact-checking CNN contributors in real time.

    Uberti concluded: “CNN pays pro-Trump contributors to provide it with a shinier veneer of objectivity. But it’s become all too clear in recent months that this mission actively harms its journalists’ pursuit of the truth. The news organization must clarify where its real priorities lie.”

    CNN’s reliance on Trump surrogates to provide defense for a “candidate who doesn’t exist” has come under increased scrutiny over recent weeks, with their decision to hire former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was still receiving payment from the Trump campaign, as a paid political analyst.

    Media Matters’ Carlos Maza highlighted CNN’s Trump surrogate problem, noting how surrogates refuse to answer legitimate questions about Trump’s positions and controversies and instead point unrelated discussions that devolve into personal attacks.

     

  • The Bigotry Of Howie Carr, Donald Trump’s Friend And Town Hall Host

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Boston area right-wing talk radio host and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr -- one of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters in media -- will moderate a town hall event in New Hampshire with Trump. Carr has extensively used his media platforms to promote Trump’s campaign and frequently deploys discriminatory rhetoric against racial and religious minorities as well as women to support Trump’s divisive campaign.

  • Leaked Fox Memo Says Online Polls "Do Not Meet Our Editorial Standards"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Business Insider reported that the Fox News vice president for public-opinion research sent an internal memo “reminding television producers and the politics team that unscientific online polls ‘do not meet our editorial standards.’” 

    After the September 26 presidential debate, Fox News hosts and contributors repeatedly cited online polls, which largely favored Republican nominee Donald Trump, to defend Trump’s widely panned performance. Fox & Friends continued to hype online polls on September 28, the day after the internal Fox memo was sent, with co-host Brian Kilmeade stating that “the online polls show [Trump] winning an overwhelming margin.” In fact, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton dominated in scientific polls. 

    The September 27 memo, sent by Dana Blanton, Fox News’ vice president of public-opinion research, noted that “quick vote items posted on the web are nonsense, not true measures of public opinion.” Blanton wrote that "the sample obviously can't be representative of the electorate because they only reflect the views of those Internet users who have chosen to participate.” From the September 28 Business Insider article:

    A Fox News executive sent a memo Tuesday afternoon reminding television producers and the politics team that unscientific online polls "do not meet our editorial standards."

    Dana Blanton, the vice president of public-opinion research at Fox News, explained in the memo obtained by Business Insider that "online 'polls' like the one on Drudge, Time, etc. where people can opt-in or self-select … are really just for fun."

    "As most of the publications themselves clearly state, the sample obviously can't be representative of the electorate because they only reflect the views of those Internet users who have chosen to participate," Blanton wrote.

    As the Fox News executive pointed out, users who participate in such polls must have internet access, be online at the time of the poll, be fans of the website in question, and self-select to participate.

    "Another problem — we know some campaigns/groups of supporters encourage people to vote in online polls and flood the results," she wrote. "These quickie click items do not meet our editorial standards."

    At least three Fox News hosts cited unscientific online polls in the hours following Monday's presidential debate to suggest Donald Trump emerged as the winner of the political showdown.

    While Trump did, in fact, come out ahead in a slew of online polls, the polls were all unscientific, meaning the sample of participants did not accurately reflect the sample of viewers who watched the debate. Such polls are almost always discounted by professional pollsters and analysts.

    The only scientific survey conducted in the immediate aftermath was the CNN/ORC instant poll, which showed viewers thought Hillary Clinton handily defeated Trump. Respondents to a Morning Consult poll released Wednesday also said, by a 49% to 26% margin, that Clinton bested Trump in the debate.

    "News networks and other organizations go to great effort and rigor to conduct scientific polls — for good reason," Blanton wrote in the memo. "They know quick vote items posted on the web are nonsense, not true measures of public opinion."

  • Fox's Alternate Reality On New York City's Murder Rate

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News used a misleading chart featuring incomplete data to defend Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s false claim made during the first presidential debate that “murders are up” in New York City. Fox’s chart used data from 2014 to 2015 to demonstrate a rise in murder rates, but did not include complete data showing that murder rates in New York City are down in 2016 from the same point last year.

  • Wash. Post Op-Ed Exposes The Dangers Of Double Standard In Reporting On Trump Conflicts Of Interest

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Two former chief White House ethics lawyers, Richard Painter from the George W. Bush administration and Norman Eisen from the Obama administration, suggested that there is a media double standard evident in reporting on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. They noted that while Clinton’s “actual or apparent conflicts … have been disclosed and publicly vetted,” Trump’s potential conflicts of interest are significantly more “obscure, profound and dangerous.”

    Multiple investigations have revealed ethical issues regarding Trump: He used a charitable foundation in his name for personal gain, made an illegal donation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R), and ran a fake “university” that defrauded thousands of people. Despite Trump’s unique ethical problems, media continue to devote an overwhelmingly unbalanced amount of coverage to (debunked) Clinton pseudo-scandals, obsess over her “optics”, and draw false equivalencies between the Clinton Foundation and fraudulent Trump Foundation. 

    In a September 21 op-ed, Painter and Eisen wrote that “a Trump presidency would be ethically compromised” by, among other things, his “refusal to disclose his tax returns,” a “lack of divestment” from Trump-branded properties, and “Trump’s propensity for dishonesty.” Painter and Eisen conclude that while Clinton’s potential and actual conflicts of interest “have been disclosed and publicly vetted,” “They are nowhere near as obscure, profound and dangerous as Trump’s.” From the op-ed (emphasis original): 

    As government ethics lawyers who have, respectively, counseled the most recent Republican president and the most recent Democratic one, we have watched Donald Trump’s campaign with increasing concern. We have come to believe a Trump presidency would be ethically compromised for the following reasons:

    Opacity. Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns shields critical information about his finances that is not found in the basic details he is required to provide on his candidate financial disclosure. 

    [...]

    Lack of divestment. Trump has said that if elected he would have his children manage his business and would not discuss business matters with them. That is not sufficient. Presidents for the past half-century have either converted assets to simple, conflict-free holdings such as U.S. government bonds, adopted blind trusts or done both. 

    [...]

    Domestic conflicts. Without considerable additional detail about Trump’s finances, we cannot be sure his decisions on domestic matters would be conflict-free. 

    [...]

    Foreign conflicts. Even more serious are the questions raised by Trump investments abroad. Those relate to some of the United States’ most important — and most sensitive — relationships, among them ones with Russia, China, India, South Korea and Turkey. 

    [...]

    Legal exposure. Because of Trump’s seeming unwillingness to set up a true blind trust, and the difficulty of his doing so, his potential foreign conflicts could raise immediate legal issues.

    [...]

    Veracity. Finally, we must address Trump’s propensity for dishonesty. It is disturbing that just 15 percent of his statements checked by PolitiFact are “true” or “mostly true.” No ethics program can work if the client is not honest.

    To be sure, counsel for a President Hillary Clinton would have to address actual or apparent conflicts posed by the Clinton Foundation, but those have been disclosed and publicly vetted. They are nowhere near as obscure, profound and dangerous as Trump’s. The ethics lawyer who would have President Trump as his or her client would face a far more daunting task than either of us — or any of our colleagues in recent years — has ever confronted.

  • Cable Networks Were "Played Like A Fiddle" By Donald Trump’s “20-Second” Birther Statement

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    A slew of media critics and commentators shamed cable news networks for being “played” into providing free live coverage of a campaign event for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. After Trump teased a “major announcement,” cable news networks provided wall-to-wall coverage in anticipation that Trump would address criticism over his role in pushing conspiracy theories that President Obama was not born in the U.S. Trump’s mere seconds-long statement “came only after a lengthy campaign event featuring military officers and award winners who have endorsed him,” turning it into “a de facto commercial for the GOP candidate.”