Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • Can White House press briefings be saved?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Is the era of Trump White House daily press briefings now, for all practical purposes, over?

    On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer held an off-camera “gaggle” where all video and audio recordings were banned. It was only the latest example of an administration obsessed with secrecy and committed to embracing the opposite of transparency. (The White House held a similar “no audio” briefing last week.) That hallmark lack of transparency extends specifically to keeping journalists and voters as uninformed as possible.

    Today, White House press briefings are dying on the vine. They’re becoming increasingly scarce and unhelpful. “When Spicer and [deputy Sarah Huckabee] Sanders do take questions from journalists, they increasingly offer nonanswers,” The Washington Post noted this week.

    This trend fits a larger, disturbing strategy as the GOP-run Senate scrambles in total secrecy to pass a sprawling health care bill without holding any public hearings, without hearing from any health care experts, and without releasing the text of the bill. Reporters today have no idea what’s in the bill, simply because Republicans won’t make the contents public. (Reporters have to rely solely on Republican sources for legislative information.)

    It all constitutes a historic, incremental effort by the Trump administration to lock out the press -- and, by extension, the public -- from the government’s official duties and business.

    This was my warning just days after Trump’s November victory: Moving forward, news organizations face a stark, and possibly defining choice in terms of how they respond to any radical efforts to curb the media’s White House access."

    Today, some journalists, and specifically the large, influential news organizations they work for, deserve a healthy dose of blame for largely sleepwalking past a dangerous problem for months.

    For much of 2017, Media Matters has urged news outlets to take collective action to push back against the White House’s anti-press steamroller operation.

    This week, following the outrageous “gaggle” lock-out, CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta spoke out, suggesting “collective action” is the only option news outlets have in the face of the White House’s unprecedented attack on newsgathering:

    “It's bizarre,” said Acosta, who despite being labeled “fake news” to his face during a press conference with President Trump in February is not known for editorializing his reporting. “I don’t know what world we’re living in right now, Brooke, where we’re standing at the White House and they bring us into the briefing room here at the White House, and they won’t answer these questions on camera or let us record the audio... I don’t understand why we covered that gaggle today, quite honestly, Brooke. If they can’t give us the answers to the questions on camera or where we can record the audio, they’re basically pointless.”

    But is it now too late? The time for robust pushback was certainly back in January or February when the White House was still assembling its obstructionist strategy. The press should’ve been raising holy hell from day one. (Following yesterday’s controversy, the White House announced Spicer will be holding an on-camera briefing today.)

    Reminder: When the Obama White House tweaked an access policy in a way news organizations didn’t like, they instantly staged a “mini-revolt” by indignantly, and collectively, demanding a meeting with Democratic administration officials to fix the problem.

    Acosta's forceful and important commentary on Monday has been the exception, not the rule -- and criticism like Acosta's has not been bolstered by much tangible action from major news organizations.

    Why the media’s signature timidity? My guess is it was the dream of access journalism that prevented many in the press from doing the right thing from day one. It was the dream of access journalism that kept reporters, editors, and producers from loudly, angrily, and collectively, demanding traditional access from the Trump White House.

    Nervous about having their access cut off -- about not being called on at briefings, about being shut out of gaggles, about having no chance at landing a presidential interview -- many journalists and news organizations sat on their hands and hoped for the best. Nervous of offending a Republican president they deemed as a TV celebrity, journalists backed down. (Or worse, laughed along.)

    And leading the access brigade was the White House Correspondents’ Association. No matter how many obstacles the administration erected for the press, the group has routinely seemed to downplay them -- all while stressing the Trump team was providing access.

    But of course today the White House does not provide beloved access. It’s doing the exact opposite. The new paucity of on-camera briefings prove that point, as does the fact that when truncated briefings do occur the main objective appears to be to share as little helpful information as possible.

    Example: Three weeks ago a reporter at a briefing asked Spicer if Trump believed in climate change. Spicer said he didn’t know because he had never asked Trump. To date, Spicer still does not seem to have an answer for that very simple question.

    So yes, journalists sat on their hands while angling for access that never came. Trump hasn’t had a full-fledged press conference since February; it’s been more than a month since he sat down with a legitimate journalist to answer extended questions. And as scandal allegations mount, there’s no reason to think Trump’s personal attorney will allow him to give any in-depth interviews soon.

    While networks have gone overboard with airing almost all of Spicer's briefings, on-camera briefings -- even ones in which Spicer is his usual, evasive self -- are still better than nothing in terms of creating a video record of the administration's answers to reporters' questions on important issues.

    Nonetheless, the window to save the press briefings is closing quickly. I wish CNN and the rest of the press corps would take Acosta’s current advice (“we should walk out”), and do something.

  • How the press is helping Republicans keep their health care bill secret

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    Senate Republicans are deliberately crafting legislation in complete secret. And it’s not just any legislation. This is a sprawling social policy bill that would directly impact the welfare of tens of millions of Americans.

    The bill represents the hallmark legislative promise that the Republican Party has been making for seven years: to repeal and replace Obamacare. For Republicans, it’s arguably their most important piece of lawmaking this century.

    Spooked by the prospect of mass public resistance to the legislation, Republicans are strategically keeping it under wraps from the press and the public so they don’t know exactly what’s being planned. (And who’s in charge of drafting the bill? According to press reports the secret bill is being negotiated by a core group of 13 men.)

    Note that what the public does know of the bill, it hates -- a lot. (Here’s one small reason why.)

    The idea that a major party in American politics is going to try to pass landmark health care legislation without scheduling a single hearing, without listening to testimony from any health care experts, without allowing the other party to offer up amendments, and most importantly, without letting the American people know what’s in the bill in a timely manner is the antithesis of an open democracy.

    Thankfully, some voices in the media have been loudly ringing alarm bells:

    But in terms of the day-to-day newsroom coverage of this secretive spectacle, reporters seem to be nonplussed by the GOP’s highly unusual -- and completely private -- approach to overhauling the health care system, which represents roughly 20 percent of the U.S. economy.

    Too often, the Beltway press’s reaction to the Republicans’ extreme maneuver has been remarkably subdued and almost nonchalant.

    Here’s how a recent Politico update on the health care bill briefly dealt with the issue of secrecy: “A public copy of the bill or the CBO score are not expected until just days before any vote, minimizing the ability of opposition to mobilize, aides said.”

    Later, the article noted:

    Senators said no draft bill has been completed, and aides said the party is fearful of leaks of the party’s plans falling into the hands of conservative or liberal activists who would seek to scuttle the GOP’s negotiations. Those factors are leading to a secretive and opaque process that Republicans say is the only way to have a chance at success without the party’s ideological divides bringing down any early draft.

    “This is typical with the process,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “We’re under pressure with the rules of reconciliation and everything else. This is not that unusual.”

    That was it.

    There was no context about how completely unheard of it is to a try to create a nationwide health care bill in secret; instead, the piece offered up Republicans’ excuses for why they are proceeding with major legislation in secret. Also of note, the article quoted four Republican senators by name and no Democrats.

    Even articles that have done a good job of highlighting some of the negative impacts of Republicans’ proposed health care overhaul have dropped the ball on explaining the absurdity of the legislative process.Last month, at very end of an article about the bill, the Los Angeles Times inserted this brief mention (emphasis added):

    What effect the [CBO] report will have on the Senate Republican discussions remains unclear, however: All the debate is taking place behind closed doors.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is leading the effort, has elected not to develop healthcare legislation through the traditional process of holding public hearings and debating amendments in committee.

    McConnell “has elected”? That’s it? That seems to wildly downplay the situation. It makes it sound like McConnell just woke up one day and said to himself, “I think I’m going to tear up congressional precedent and try to pass a bill in total secret.” (If it’s that easy, why did Democrats bothering holding hundreds of hours of hearings for Obamacare?) By the way, McConnell in March promised a “robust” amendment process on the health care bill. That turned out to be a lie.

    Meanwhile, on June 12, The New York Times published a granular article about the Republican attempts to finish the bill. But only in passing did the Times acknowledge that the bill was being written “behind closed doors.” Nowhere did Times reporters note that the GOP is refusing to hold any hearings or allow Democrats to offer amendments. (In a sign Republicans’ secrecy may finally be breaking through into news coverage, on Thursday afternoon the Times did publish an extensive article focusing on the extreme secrecy surrounding the bill.)

    Same with a detailed article on June 8 in The Washington Post: “Senate Republicans consider keeping parts of Obamacare they once promised to kill.” It contained no reference to the fact that Republicans were refusing to make the bill public. Also, the Post article quoted eight Republican senators and one Democrat.

    There was a detailed CNN article from June 12 about the bill and it also failed to mention that Democrats and the public are being completely locked out of the process. It’s true that on that same day another CNN health care article addressed the elephant in the room, noting, “This is all being done behind closed doors.” But again, there was no context to explain just how completely unheard of that is in the United States Senate.

    What does important, helpful context look like for this story? From Fortune:

    Not only will the draft bill text not be released to the public—it won't even go through the regular Senate committee process. By contrast, the debate over the Affordable Care Act spanned more than a year after former President Barack Obama's inauguration and involved more than 100 hearings, as well as adoption of multiple GOP-sponsored amendments.

    According to data compiled by Media Matters, from June 1-14, Republicans' health care bill received scant attention on the nightly broadcast news shows, comprising just three minutes of coverage combined. The secrecy of the bill earned only one passing mention during that time period, when NBC's Kristen Welker noted on June 13 that "Senate Republicans have come under fire for trying to hammer out a health care bill behind closed doors and without a public hearing so far."

    The same study found that outside of MSNBC, evening programming on cable news networks also didn't devote much attention to the secretive process:

    Another problem is that when journalists have addressed the GOP’s historic secrecy, it’s too often presented in the context of a partisan battle. For instance, Axios this week reported that Republicans “have no plans to publicly release” a draft of the health care bill, presenting the significance this way:  

    Why it matters: Democratic senators are already slamming Republicans for the secrecy of their bill writing process, and this isn't going to help.

    But from a news perspective, that’s not why this really “matters.” It matters because the way Republicans are attempting to overhaul the health care system is unprecedented. 

    That’s why it matters. That’s why this ought to be treated as very big news. 

  • It’s time to puncture the media myth about Trump’s unwavering base

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Like Wonder Woman’s Amazonian shield, President Donald Trump’s loyal base of supporters has magical powers to protect the new president from peril -- at least according to the Beltway press.

    It’s his loyal base that supposedly gives Trump so much cover and allows him to embrace a deeply radical agenda. The theory holds that regardless of how Democratic and independent voters view Trump (and they overwhelmingly view him unfavorably), as long as Trump maintains the support of his strongest political backers, his support is “stable” -- he “has held onto the support of the voters who put him in the White House,” and his base is "steady."

    “President Donald Trump is banking on his loyal base of supporters to help him through the tangle of the Russia turmoil,” The Associated Press reported last week, in the latest round of base coverage.  

    Over and over, we see the media suggesting that because Trump’s “base” is standing with him, he can likely weather all storms. Even if emerging evidence doesn’t support the claim.

    That mythical pull of the Trump base is why so many journalists have spent so much time interviewing his supporters this year, especially journalists at The New York Times, who have relentlessly focused on Trump’s most ardent backers. Indeed, the press’s obsession with Trump’s base has emerged as one of the oddest political press trends this year.

    Again and again, political events are viewed through the prism of Trump’s base. Following the recent deadly terror attack in London and Trump’s inexplicable attack on the mayor of London, ABC’s Rick Klein wrote, “The president's aim – again – is his base.”

    So it persists, this odd, sustained narrative that no matter what Trump does, no matter how erratic he acts or how radical his initiatives, he’ll always have a rock-solid base to support him because he enjoys an almost superhuman loyalty among them.

    While Trump definitely has a core group of followers who are ensconced in the president’s propaganda media bubble and will seemingly stick by his side no matter what he does, the press overstates the size and influence of that group of people.

    In recent weeks, some cracks in Trump’s support have emerged surrounding three crucial issues: Russia, climate change, and health care.

    To date, a handful of media commentators have noticed the trend. But the myth of Trump’s all-obedient base, and the supposed political cover that grants him, really needs to be more broadly punctured.

    For starters, the Trump base just isn’t big enough to exert any defining clout, at least not to the extent all the hype would suggest. And it’s certainly not big enough to ensure Trump’s political success.

    Just in terms of electoral math, “Trump can hang on to most — if not all — of his base, and Democrats could still clean up in the midterm elections,” Harry Enten recently argued at FiveThirtyEight. Enten noted that having lost the popular vote, Trump began his presidency with an unusually small base. As he explained:

    The GOP’s problem again comes back to Trump’s base being relatively small to begin with compared to the base support of past presidents. The latest poll from YouGov, for example, shows 88 percent of respondents who said they voted for Trump approve of his job performance. But 88 percent of the 46 percent of 2016 voters who chose Trump is just 40 percent. Overall, the YouGov survey found 54 percent of registered voters disapprove of Trump so far. If every person who currently disapproves of Trump’s job performance voted against the Republican Party’s House candidates in 2018, Democrats would almost certainly take control of the chamber.

    Not exactly a sweeping mandate.

    Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver argued in a May piece that there has been “a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now.”

    And it’s not just a shift in the voters who strongly approve. Look at Ipsos/Reuters polling that has tracked Trump’s approval rating among Republican voters this year. Back in February, the poll found that 85 percent of Republicans supported Trump. Most recently, that number had dipped to 75 percent.  

    For a base that’s advertised by the press as being impossible to move off its pro-Trump positions, note that just 67 percent of Republicans support Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. And 31 percent of Republicans think “more needs to be done to address climate change,” while 49 percent are very or somewhat concerned about climate change, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.

    Meanwhile, 35 percent are very or somewhat concerned about Trump’s relationship with Russia. Nearly the same percentage of Republicans think the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election is a very important or somewhat important issue. A hefty 63 percent approve of the appointment of Robert Mueller to investigate any possible coordination between President Trump's campaign and the Russian government, while 47 percent support an independent commission to investigate the same sprawling scandal. (All via Qunnipiac.)

    As for health care, only 42 percent of Republicans approve of the Republicans' signature health care plan that was passed by the House and is now being reviewed by the Senate, and just 49 percent support proposed federal funding cuts for Medicaid.

    That lack of Republican support is why, overall, the Republican health care plan receives such abysmal ratings:

    Elsewhere, a majority of GOP voters say Trump tweets too much. And nearly one-third think it is inappropriate that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, plays a significant role in the White House.

    These are definitely not the numbers of a president who enjoys a political backstop of supporters who will buttress his every move indefinitely.

  • Why Fox News and the rest of Trump's loyalist media won't be able to contain the sprawling Russia story

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The rain has been pouring down on the White House all week, and Fox News can’t make it stop.

    In what has arguably been President Donald Trump’s worst period in the Oval Office and what has likely been the most dramatic week in terms of scandalous revelations and allegations, the White House has been under a deluge for days.

    Barely able to keep up with the rat-a-tat-tat of shocking disclosures that have surfaced surrounding the ever-expanding Russia controversy -- and specifically surrounding former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before Congress where he alleged Trump ordered him to call off the bureau’s criminal investigation into a key Trump aide -- the White House finds itself at the center of a raging storm.

    Traditionally, at moments of political peril for Republicans, Fox News and the right-wing media are supposed to provide shelter from the storm. The obedient outlets are supposed to do whatever it takes to soften the controversy, whether it’s casting doubt on the facts, attacking the GOP’s accusers, pushing hypocrisy, pretending there’s no there there, or simply changing the topic.

    Fox and its friends have tried that all week; they have tried really, really hard. See Fox's Sean Hannity the night before the Comey hearing: 

    And they’ve tried for months now as the Russia scandal has metastasized in plain view since Trump was inaugurated. “Fox has consistently tried to ignore, mislead about, downplay, distract from, and create an alternate reality around the FBI's probe," Media Matters recently noted.

    Yes, lots of right-wing players aggressively announced that the Comey hearing represented a “disaster” for Democrats and therefore a win for the White House, while still clinging to the idea that the whole Russia story remains a liberal media hoax.

    Friday morning, Trump himself celebrated the hearing as supposedly offering him "total and complete vindication" and praised Fox & Friends for its loyal coverage. 

    But it’s not working. In the real world, the scandal, the revelations, and the investigations have, at least for now, overwhelmed the right-wing media’s ability to run interference for the Republican Party.

    It’s the sheer size and scope of the scandal that have besieged Trump’s loyalist outlets. They’re simply not built to fend off a story of this magnitude, one that’s been expanding throughout all of 2017. And it’s a blockbuster story that will almost certainly have legs well into 2018, thanks in part to the fact that special counsel Robert Mueller and his team will likely still be investigating then, since special counsels in the past have often taken years to complete their work.

    Traditionally, Trump’s loyalist media are more adept at distracting from and creating an alternative universe for a short-term story or mini-controversy.

    They’re less effective, though, in marshaling a long-term, defensive campaign to undercut a story that haunts the White House on a monthly, weekly, and sometimes daily basis. (For instance, they were never able to permanently turn around the narratives of failure for President George W. Bush surrounding Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War.) And today, Fox and the rest of the loyalist media (Breitbart.com, the Drudge Report, AM talk radio, “alt-right” sites) are facing a colossal story that’s shaping up to be perhaps a once-in-a-generation-type of all-encompassing Beltway scandal.

    Is there still a right-wing information bubble? Absolutely. Will hardcore Trump supporters always have an affable media ecosystem at their disposal to get only White House-friendly news and commentary? Certainly. Will they continue to view the Russia scandal through an entirely different prism? They will.

    But an important problem for the White House and its propagandists -- in addition to the fact that despite their wishful thinking to the contrary, the president has clearly not been totally vindicated -- is that they're already losing supporters on the Russia story. Meaning, a sizeable portion of Republican voters support the idea of an independent investigation into Russia. (Forty-six percent, according to a recent poll.) That suggests there isn’t a blanket blind loyalty to Trump on this issue. It also suggests that chunks of the Republican base are dismissing Fox News rhetoric that the Russia scandal is a “hoax” and that it’s all just “hysteria” from the so-called liberal media.

    And it's much worse among independents. According to The Washington Post, "Political independents, a group that Trump won in last year’s election, are also largely critical. By 63 to 20 percent, more independents say Trump fired Comey to protect himself rather than for the good of the country. And by roughly 2 to 1, more independents say Trump is trying to interfere with Russia investigations rather than cooperating with them (58 to 27 percent)." (The same poll found that "roughly 1 in 5 Republicans say Trump fired Comey to protect himself.")

    We also know the current coordinated campaign of obfuscation regarding Russia isn’t working because Trump’s loyalists in the press already had a dry run in May, and they failed. That’s when the White House was rocked by a series of quick-succession scandal stories, such as Trump’s decision to fire Comey, his leak of classified intelligence to Russians visiting the White House, his boasts that he fired Comey the “nut job,” et cetera.

    At the time, influential portions of the conservative media sprang into action and gave it everything they had. Fox News led an all-hands-on-deck defensive push to knock the Russia story down to size, trying to push it out of the spotlight and make excuses for the beleaguered president.

    Fox News’ Jesse Watters insisted the controversy was “boring,” because “this is a scandal with no video, with no audio, with no sex, with no money, with no dead bodies.” Tucker Carlson waved the whole Comey story off as “media hysteria.” (That’s when he even bothered to cover the controversy at all.)

    Radio host Laura Ingraham couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about: “We're acting like we're on the eve of World War III with this story tonight. I think this is part of why people are tuning out.” On Twitter, conservative commentators denounced Comey, with one calling him “a preening popinjay utterly consumed with his own vainglorious pomposity.” And over at the Washington Examiner, columnist Byron York claimed, “At this rate, it won't matter if Trump colluded with Russia.”

    And don’t forget that Sean Hannity went dumpster diving in May, pushing an utterly debunked conspiracy theory about a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer. The far-flung plot was, in part, supposed to show that the Russians didn’t try to interfere with the U.S. election last year.

    The results from that aggressive smoke-and-mirrors right-wing media production in mid-May? Three weeks later, the Russia scandal is even bigger than last month, and the White House is taking on even more water. Today, the constant discussion of obstruction of justice (and therefore possible impeachment) has become the Trump norm.  

    So no, it’s not working.

    And if you take a further step back, Trump’s media defenders have been frantically trying to wave off the Russia story since January. To date, they have nothing to show for their efforts, except a president who’s now flirting with his own demise.

  • Trump White House moves from lies to authoritarian-style propaganda

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Lying about public policy has become standard practice for the Trump White House, as well as leaders of the Republican Party. There seems to be no baseless claim this administration isn’t willing to make.

    That dark trend was on display last week in the White House Rose Garden when President Donald Trump announced he was beginning the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord. Trump’s supposed reasoning for abandoning the deal was built in part around widely disputed claims that the accord was a jobs killer for the United States.

    But there was one claim that seemed to occupy a separate category: It was a pure fabrication about a supposed “slush fund” that had been created around the Paris agreement -- a “slush fund” the United States was flushing billions of dollars into for other countries to spend. (Naturally, far-right sites and right-wing Twitter loved the “slush fund” claim.)

    On the White House website, the claim looked like this:

    And on Twitter, the White House announced:

    Just more everyday lies, right? But taking a step back, there seemed to be something odd about the White House using its Twitter feed days after the Paris announcement to push out a choreographed lie about the climate accord that could be, and would be, easily debunked. Actually, the tweet managed to include two separate lies within the confines of 140 characters.

    As ProPublica noted, “1)It is not a slush fund. 2)The fund was not created by the Paris Agreement.” (Here is the whole ProPublica Twitter thread detailing the White House’s casual mendacity regarding the historic climate agreement.)

    In a piece published by The Washington Post, Matthew J. Kotchen, Yale professor of economics – and former deputy assistant secretary of energy and the environment for the U.S. Treasury Department during the Obama administration -- called Trump “astonishingly misinformed” about the slush fund claim. “Nearly everything Trump said about the Green Climate Fund to justify his decision was wrong or misleading.”

    But I suspect the White House didn’t create a days-long “slush fund” campaign because the administration was “misinformed.” It did so seemingly because administration officials wanted to spread a lie and because they seem to be in the propaganda business (not the public debate business). Increasingly, this White House’s propaganda operation looks like an authoritarian one found in other countries, such as Russia.

    “Trump’s team is finding ways to shrewdly approximate [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s capacity to shape narratives and create alternative realities,” noted Mike Mariani in Vanity Fair in April. “Specious narratives, conspiracy theories, and indeed fake news have been part of Russia’s geopolitical playbook for more than half a century.”

    And how about this for creating an alternative reality built on specious narratives and fake news? On Monday, after the president announced plans to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system, he and Republican members of Congress then staged a faux bill-signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House. There, supportive politicians gathered around the seated president, who signed nothing more than a letter to Congress stating his support for the proposal. The whole event was just Kabuki theater.

    Also note that when Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia last month, the White House loudly trumpeted the news that it had brokered a $110 billion arms sale to the Middle East power, which the press covered as news.

    But the deal reportedly doesn’t actually exist. It’s “fake news,” according to Bruce Riedel at the Brookings Institution. “I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts.”

    Creating a days-long marketing campaign around a mythical “slush fund”? Staging a fake bill-signing ceremony? Concocting a multibillion-dollar arms deal?

    These instances go far beyond stagecraft and simply trying to create the best optics possible. Instead, this feels more like the latest shift by the Trump administration into permanent propaganda warfare. And that puts the Beltway media in the crosshairs of this White House’s unprecedented misinformation machinery.

    Government-sponsored propaganda isn’t supposed to work in a vibrant democracy where openness flourishes, mostly because a free press is positioned to deter and undercut those kinds of heavy-handed attempts. But Trump’s brand could work for two reasons.

    First, if the mainstream news media is too timid in calling out Trump’s endless deceits, that gives him room to operate. Overly concerned with not appearing to be biased, and routinely giving Republicans far too much space to operate dishonestly, the press in 2017 has shown too much deference to the administration’s radical brand of misinformation.

    “The tell-both-sides media attitude that generally works in the free world falls apart completely when dealing with a dictatorship that doesn’t operate in good faith, that lies and actively fabricates constantly,” Garry Kasparov recently told the Columbia Journalism Review. Kasparov is a former world chess champion who today serves as a Russian pro-democracy leader and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation.

    Second, like Russia’s president, Trump has a built-in media infrastructure that will obediently echo his lies and present them as news. For Putin, state-run outlets such as RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and Sputnik serve as a constant, unapologetic mouthpiece for the Kremlin.

    Obviously, the free press in the United States doesn’t serve at the pleasure of the president. But there is a branch of media that does.

    Meaning, if the Trump White House pushes out propaganda lies and orchestrated campaigns, and Fox News as well dozens of right-wing sites and established AM talk radio all treat it as factual information, that automatically gives the misinformation the sheen of legitimacy for some consumers. And that means Trump’s all-believing base will buy the claims no matter what, simply because they’re both coming from Trump and they’re presented as factual by Trump’s loyalist media.

    So yes, authoritarian propaganda can work in this country, especially if the White House’s nonstop efforts to discredit the legitimate press among its supporters succeed -- if Trump is successful in sowing the seeds of a chaos culture, or the “fog of unknowability,” as former Russian TV producer Peter Pomerantsev calls it in Mariani's Vanity Fair piece.

    “The Kremlin does this by flooding television and digital media with biased coverage and wanton spin,” wrote Mariani. “The Trump administration has discovered something equally effective: lying to reporters and publicly attacking critics are like tossing grenades into the media eco-system. The press is constantly scrambling to respond to a never-ending river of slime, and the system is gradually overwhelmed.”

    The Trump White House lies will continue indefinitely. Increasingly, they should be viewed as a crucial piece of the administration’s permanent propaganda campaign.

  • It’s time for cable news to unplug the White House press briefings

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    During a press briefing this week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked a straightforward question about whether the president believes that human activity contributes to climate change. “Honestly, I haven't asked him. I can get back to you,” was Spicer’s non-answer.

    Spicer acts as one of the president’s closest aides, but he hasn’t asked Trump if he believes in the simple premise of global warming? This, despite the fact that Trump this week took the radical position of triggering the withdrawal process for the United States to leave the historic Paris climate agreement.

    If Spicer can’t address simple questions, then what’s the point of Spicer’s press briefings?

    More importantly, why are cable news channels still devoted to airing virtually every minute of every Spicer briefing?

    Even people on CNN agree, although they’re not quite framing it that way. In the wake of Spicer’s new brand of nearly news-less briefings where the press secretary aggressively delivers few answers and virtually no insights in response to reporters’ questions, CNN hosts had this exchange on Wednesday morning (emphasis added):

    ALISYN CAMEROTA: So then Sean Spicer goes to the podium with the press; and he can't confirm or comment on the questions that the press has about Jared Kushner and whether or not Jared Kushner tried to set up this back channel. So I mean, at what point -- why is Sean Spicer holding these press briefings? You know? What's the point of these?

    DAVID GREGORY: There's really no point. And what's unfortunate for Sean Spicer is that the White House press secretary position under President Trump doesn't have credibility.

    That same day, CNN’s Dylan Byers detailed just how little substance Spicer now delivers at the briefings, noting, “For two days in a row, since returning from President Trump's trip abroad, the White House press secretary has held uncharacteristically short press briefings in which he claimed not to know the answer to questions, outsourced questions to other officials or dismissed the premise of questions entirely.”

    The trend has been on display for weeks. “Sean Spicer appears to be staking out a new approach: Say hardly anything at all,” US News & World Report noted in mid-May.

    The conclusions being drawn here are correct. Whether out of frustration with bad new cycles, or because of looming personnel changes in Trump’s communications team, the White House has decided to make the daily press briefings perfunctory events specifically designed to not inform reporters. (Trump last month floated the idea of canceling the briefings all together. More recent reports say the on-camera briefings may decline in number, and Spicer briefed reporters off-camera on Wednesday.) 

    Lowering the information curtain even further, Spicer announced on Wednesday that all questions about ongoing Russia investigations would have to be posed to Trump’s personal attorney and that Spicer would no longer be addressing what’s perhaps the most pressing political issue facing this administration.

    Which brings me back to what seems like an obvious point: It’s time for cable news to pull the plug on its devotion to airing virtually every Trump White House press briefing in its entirety.

    The briefings are rarely newsworthy, they’re deliberately not informative, and they are filled with misinformation. The fact that they’re televised every day sends a clear signal from corporate media that The Donald Trump Show is worth broadcasting even when it has negative value in terms of informing viewers -- and even though it’s a major shift in practice from how press briefings were treated at the end of the Obama administration. 

    That brand of obedient programming leads to a kind of breathless mindset that’s more synonymous with a wartime culture news reporting (i.e., Everybody stop what you’re doing -- the White House is about to make a statement!).

    Are there days when it would make sense to air Spicer’s briefings, or portions of them? Of course. Just like there were times during the Obama administration when it made sense to occasionally air its briefings. But there’s simply no justification for nonstop coverage, especially when the briefings are built on deceits, and when they’re designed to foil honest inquiries.

    Note that Spicer’s current trend toward even less briefing information comes from a press secretary who had already drastically reduced the length of briefings. Compared to Spicer’s predecessor in the Obama administration, Josh Earnest, the Republican’s daily briefings so far run approximately 40 percent shorter in time, which means far fewer questions get asked. “Earnest allowed 2,574 follow-up questions while Spicer allowed only 1,919 over the same number of briefings,” according to a Media Matters study that looked at Spicer's first 48 briefings and Earnest's last 48.

    And yet, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC each aired at least 93 percent of Spicer's briefing time, compared to just 2 percent for Earnest's:

    Two important points: First, there’s been something of myth created that Spicer’s briefings produce great cable news ratings, and that’s why they are aired each day. A February 10 New York Times article was responsible for that idea, but the Times article itself didn't actually show that much of a bump.

    The paper claimed cable news ratings increased “10 percent” during Spicer briefings. But in the world of cable news, which has a relatively small audience to begin with and where ratings tend to be volatile, a 10 percent gain doesn’t mean much. (Prime-time cable news ratings fluctuate by more than 10 percent all the time.) If Spicer’s briefings produced a 40 or 50 percent spike in ratings, that would suggest some sort of phenomenon. But they don’t.

    And even if Spicer is giving a big ratings boost, that's still not a good excuse for actively misinforming viewers by broadcasting all the briefings. 

    Second, there’s an idea that since all three cable news channels religiously carry the briefings, it would be difficult for one to step away. But CNN already did that once, and the network should do it again. 

    Back on the night of January 21, when the White House was fuming about coverage of Trump’s inauguration and how the press was noting how small the crowd was that day, Spicer addressed reporters in the briefing room and CNN deliberately opted not to air it live.

    Producers “decided to see what was said at the press event, according to a person familiar with the network, then play relevant parts as deemed necessary,” Variety reported.

    It’s time for CNN and its competitors go back to that model.

  • How the Seth Rich conspiracy theory and Greg Gianforte’s assault reignited the conservative media’s civil war

    Hannity widely mocked, denounced by GOP pundits

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    For a movement that seems to be careening past barriers of common sense this year with President Donald Trump in the White House, two recent events caused some members of the conservative media to pull up short and demand some accountability. The startling episodes were last summer's murder of a 27-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer -- and an absurd right-wing conspiracy theory about the attack -- and last week's assault of a reporter by a Republican candidate for the U.S. House.

    Rekindling the civil war that broke out during the Republican primary last year when a collective of conservatives rallied unsuccessfully against Trump’s candidacy, the varied reactions to these reports have renewed the widening schism between hardcore Trump loyalists in the media who lean toward the “alt-right” movement and who’ve adopted a troll-first-ask-questions-later form of harassment and the more traditional conservatives who are increasingly aghast at the behavior on display.

    Shameless,” “bizarre,” “morally bankrupt,” “shameful,” “twisted”: Those were some of the descriptors conservative commentators reached for in order to describe other conservative media players in recent days because of their commentary about Rich or Gianforte.

    As someone who has monitored the right-wing press for many years, I can’t recall a time when so many GOP-friendly commentators unloaded on fellow conservatives over complaints of unprofessional behavior (rather than over policy disputes.) It’s quite unusual.

    Specifically, some of those who called out their colleagues were appalled at how Sean Hannity and Fox News spearheaded a vile media campaign to politicize the death of Rich. The deplorable push of the hollow story was to suggest Rich committed a crime before he was killed by stealing tens of thousands of DNC emails and giving them to WikiLeaks last year, thereby making him a target of political violence.

    The ghoulish effort had sinister partisan undertones: If Rich stole the emails, that means the Russians did not. And that would mean there was no Trump/Russia collusion. Or something.

    The whole spectacle, as Hannity and others at Fox teamed up with the most sordid players on the far right, represented a stunning collapse of decency.

    “The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased,” announced Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, who once served as chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Surveying the Rich debacle, Gerson wrote, “The movement has been seized by a kind of discrediting madness, in which conspiracy delusions figure prominently.”

    Others were shocked that Trump loyalists in the right-wing media cheered when Republican Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter on the eve of the candidate’s special election in Montana last week.

    “The age of Trump has corrupted a great many people and shattered norms,” lamented Mona Charen in National Review. (She once served as Nancy Reagan's speechwriter.) “Those whose moral compass has long since been stashed in the bottom drawer defending the indefensible piled on to applaud Gianforte’s thuggishness.”

    Not many of the commentators necessarily connected the dots between the Rich conspiracy and the Gianforte assault. But what they did, separately, was detail the aggressive unmooring that’s taken place among key sections within the Trump loyalist media -- the complete abdication of civility in the name of excusing reckless excess.

    “This sort of stuff isn’t worthy of baseline value-based behavior, let alone conservatism,” complained Ben Shapiro, the former Breitbart writer who now works at the far-right Daily Wire, referencing reactions to the Gianforte assault.

    The Rich and Gianforte episodes provided fairly clear lines of demarcation for the conservative press: Either you support defaming murder victims and causing needless pain to their family for partisan gain, or you don’t. And either you support politicians openly assaulting private citizens, or you don’t.

    The fact that either scenario generated robust debate within the conservative movement tells you how grave the situation is in today’s right-wing media.

    One key point: The recent awakening on the right seems to be limited specifically to the Rich and Gianforte stories. Meaning, the conservative press, in general, continues to do extraordinary damage to our public debate by constantly spreading misinformation and by regularly defending or dismissing the indefensible from the current White House.

    Still, it’s worth highlighting the chorus of condemnations that rose up last week and pondering what it might mean for the unfolding Trump presidency. For now, temperatures are running hot and Fox News has taken a pounding in the wake of the channel’s Seth Rich fiasco.

    At The Weekly Standard, John McCormack announced, “Perhaps the worst actor of all in this twisted game of telephone is Fox News host Sean Hannity.”

    “The network I once respected as a necessary antidote to liberal media now peddles craven lies and Russian disinformation,” complained Max Boot at Foreign Policy.

    Added Jennifer Rubin, a longtime conservative writer at The Washington Post: “Fox’s jaw-dropping unprofessionalism and dishonesty were matched only by its cruelty in subjecting Rich’s loved ones to a grotesque political plot.”

    Conservative New York Times columnist and longtime Wall Street Journal writer Bret Stephens agreed:

    Meanwhile, John Podhoretz at Commentary wrote a scathing anti-Hannity column headlined “The Shame of Defaming Seth Rich.”

    And then there was the Montana morality meltdown.

    After Gianforte threw Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs to the ground in front of several witnesses and while the reporter’s tape recorder rolled, Trump loyalists in the press rushed to the Republican's defense. Some even cheered the attack while blaming and mocking the unsuspecting victim.

    For some Republican-friendly journalists, that was too much to stomach. 

    “Too many conservatives are either doubting the event occurred, despite audio evidence and witness testimony by a Fox News crew, or praising Mr. Gianforte for giving the press what it deserves,” lamented former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, who was infamously grabbed by Trump’s campaign manager last year while trying to ask the candidate a question.

    “There is never an excuse for a politician to assault a reporter for asking questions,” wrote Jay Caruso at the GOP-friendly RedState. “It’s sad to watch some conservatives wave it away because they don’t like the media.”

    “You either uphold certain basic standards of decency or you don’t,” noted Charen after singling out conservatives such as Brent Bozell, Dinesh D’Souza and Laura Ingraham for loudly supporting Gianforte’s attack. “Some who call themselves conservatives have shown that they are nothing of the kind. To be conservative is to be honorable. These are contemptible, partisan hacks.”

    I don’t often agree with the National Review, The Weekly Standard, The Daily Wire, Commentary, and former Bush speechwriters. But in this case, they’re right to loudly sound the alarm about the very dark place that Trump is leading today’s conservative media.

  • The GOP’s war on the press explodes into full view

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    First came the body slam, as Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte grabbed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by the neck and lifted him off the ground Wednesday afternoon at a Montana campaign event. Then came the punches as Jacobs lay sprawled on the floor.

    Here’s how Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna described the jaw-dropping assault. She and two of her colleagues were in the room when the Gianforte attack took place:

    At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"

    The candidate, who’s running in a special election today, has been charged for the assault.

    It’s all very shocking, but it's not surprising. It’s shocking that a grown man who wants to represent the voters of Montana in the halls and chambers of Congress decided to physically assault a reporter who was pressing the candidate with wonky questions about the Congressional Budget Office’s projections for the proposed GOP health care plan.

    “The eye-witness accounts and the recordings have stunned us,” wrote the Billings Gazette, Montana’s largest newspaper, which withdrew its endorsement of Gianforte last night. “We must adopt zero tolerance for such behavior if freedom of expression means anything.”

    But it’s not surprising.

    It’s not surprising because the Republican Party, led by President Donald Trump, has been widening its war on the press at a breathtaking pace over the last two years.

    Unequivocally targeting journalists as the “enemy of the people,” Trump has signaled to the party and to the larger conservative movement that it’s open season on the news media.

    “I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people’ -- and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none,” Trump announced during his media-bashing address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.  

    And during a visit to CIA headquarters, the new president bragged that he had “a running war with the media” and called reporters “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” This while his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, demanded the media "keep its mouth shut."

    After that, Trump reportedly urged then-FBI Director James Comey to jail reporters.

    And of course, on the campaign trail last year, Trump regularly called reporters "disgusting" and "horrible people.” His ardent followers soon picked up his cues and began raining down insults and death threats on journalists covering the Trump campaign.

    And don’t forget that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with simple battery of a reporter last year (the local prosecutor ultimately decided not to prosecute him), and that a Time photographer was slammed to the ground during a Trump rally.

    Cumulatively, that has helped create a hothouse environment where reporters have perpetual targets on their back.

    HuffPost’s Michael Calderone recently rounded up just the very latest disturbing attacks on the First Amendment:

    Alaska Dispatch News reporter Nathaniel Herz told police earlier this month that Republican state Sen. David Wilson slapped him during an encounter over a recent story.

    West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman was arrested on May 10 while trying to ask a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who later praised police for their handling of the situation.

    And last week, CQ Roll Call reporter John M. Donnelly said he was pinned against a wall by security guards after trying to ask a Federal Communications Commission member a question in Washington.

    Sadly, we can now add the Jacobs assault to the mounting war on the press, sponsored and promoted by today’s Republican Party.

  • Trump’s budget revolves around a glaring broken campaign promise -- the press needs to say so

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    President Donald Trump’s administration is proposing massive, unprecedented spending cuts on social aid programs while trying to balance the budget, pay for big tax cuts for the rich, and increase Pentagon spending. 

    At the center stands a gargantuan $800 billion reduction to Medicaid, which currently helps insure more than 70 million people, pays for millions of births each year, covers approximately 40 percent of all nursing home costs in America, and provides treatment for patients addicted to opioids.

    The cuts were detailed in President Trump’s first federal budget, which was delivered to Congress on Tuesday. The proposal represents a truly radical scheme.

    It also revolves around a stunning Trump flip-flop. Because while eyeing the White House, Trump had a much different plan as he promised to protect Medicaid, not take a chainsaw to it. (Trump in 2015: "I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.")

    Trump's promise means that some form of this headline should be appearing on news sites all across the country this week: “Trump breaks campaign promise by proposing massive cuts to Medicaid.”

    That’s just Beltway Journalism 101: If a politician promises one thing while running for office and then immediately does the complete opposite after being elected, that’s considered news. Especially if it’s the president of the United Sates. 

    But we’re not seeing many of those headlines with Trump and Medicaid. Yes, news organizations are stressing that Trump’s budget would result in unprecedented cuts to anti-poverty programs. But the second key part about Trump’s attack on America’s long-standing social safety net representing an abdication of a major campaign promise? That is getting very short shrift.

    That’s distressing because it evidences a larger problem where journalists no longer consider Trump’s rhetoric and promises to be serious enough to bother holding the president accountable.

    In other words, if the press is willing to normalize Trump’s duplicitous behavior to the point where it doesn’t even report that the cornerstone of his proposed budget represents a stunning case of political hypocrisy, then journalists are slowly becoming part of the problem.

    If we are at the point where journalists tend to shrug at the sight and sounds of a Trump lie or blatant flip-flop, that means Trump has successfully worn the press down to the point where journalists don't care about detailing the prevarications and deceits.

    For context, here’s how enormous the Medicaid cuts are that Trump is now proposing:

    And yet many in the press have glossed over the fact that the historic cuts clearly contradict Trump’s previous promises. In fact, some news outlets actually gave Trump credit this week for keeping some campaign promises with his budget.

    Here's how Axios originally reported on Trump's budget (emphasis added):

    President Trump's 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday won't reform Social Security or Medicare — in line with his campaign promise — but it will make serious cuts to other entitlement programs.

    Axios wrote Trump kept “his campaign promise” by not touching Social Security or Medicare. But Axios was silent about the fact that Trump had obviously broken his promise not to cut Medicaid, let alone not to make “serious cuts.” (Furthermore, Axios was wrong that the budget doesn't cut Social Security and later deleted the "campaign promise" language and made other changes to its article.)

    NPR did the same thing. It noted that Trump kept his pledge regarding Medicare and completely ignored his broken budget promise for Medicaid. 

    More of the same from Reuters:

    Trump upheld his promise - for the most part - that he would not cut Medicare and Social Security, two expensive safety-net programs that deficit hawks have long targeted for reforms.

    (Note that both NPR and Reuters made the same mistake as Axios on Social Security -- seemingly not understanding cuts to Social Security disability payments in the budget)

    So Trump promises that are kept constitute news, but Trump promises that are broken get ignored?

    And more from CNN:

    Donald Trump's budget that is expected to be unveiled on Tuesday will include $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid -- a move that underscores the President's resolve to significantly downsize the federal program even as Republican lawmakers are clashing over the issue in Congress.

    Missing? Any context regarding candidate Trump and Medicaid. (Only later did CNN publish a story noting the broken promise.)

    ABC News reported that the Trump budget includes "deep cuts" to Medicaid and then noted that “Democrats are criticizing the White House proposal, accusing Trump of going back on his promise to his campaign supporters.”  

    But it’s a fact that Trump went back on his promise, not merely a Democratic accusation.

    For the record, there were major news organizations that did include references to Trump’s blatant Medicaid flip-flop in their coverage. But they did so much too timidly.

    The Wall Street JournalLos Angeles TimesCBSUSA Today, and NBC all noted Trump’s Medicaid flip-flop. The problem was that the salient fact was mentioned only in passing -- often via a single sentence -- and was often buried deep into the news accounts.

    Trump advertises his hypocrisy every day. The press shouldn’t ignore his boasts.

  • As Trump unravels, so do Fox’s ratings

    Network slips behind MSNBC, CNN in key demo during prime time

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    When Fox News architect Roger Ailes died last Thursday, one of the common threads through the coverage of his career was the ratings success he produced at the conservative news channel.

    “Roger Ailes, who built Fox News into a powerhouse, dies at 77,” read the CNN headline. The Associated Press agreed: “He helped start Fox News in 1996 and built it into a conservative news beacon and cable ratings powerhouse.”

    While Ailes was heavily (and deservedly) criticized over both the political legacy he left behind and the reports of serial sexual harassment that defined the end of his career, there was heated agreement within the press that Ailes was a television marketing master whose ratings success was untouched -- and that the Ailes model would outlive even his own presence as at the network. (He was forced out last July as reports of harassment snowballed.)

    All of which made Fox News’ ratings performance on the night Ailes died even more shocking: On Thursday, Fox News came in last place among the three cable news channels among viewers between the ages of 25 and 54. And it wasn’t a fluke.

    In a development that has sparked murmurs throughout the cable news business, Fox News in recent weeks has regularly finished in last place among advertising-friendly viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, or “demo” viewers, as they’re known in the industry. (In terms of total viewers, Fox News does better, thanks to its large stable of viewers over the age of 54.)

    “For first time this century, they aren’t in first place,” noted MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough last week. “In fact, for the first time this century, they are in third place.” Added CNN’s Brian Stelter, “This is an extraordinary moment in the cable news race.”

    And yes, a lot of this is President Donald Trump’s fault.

    Ever since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, which seemed to then unleash an unending stream of breaking-news bombshells that rattled White House windows day after day, Fox News has seen its mighty ratings prowess threatened by MSNBC and CNN.

    Basically, the ongoing and ever-expanding list of scandals involving the Trump administration -- many revolving around Russia -- has depressed Fox News viewers while simultaneously spiking interest at CNN and MSNBC, driving Fox into the ratings basement. 

    Are we witnessing a sea change in cable news? Or is this simply an extended blip that’s drawing back the curtain and revealing Fox News’ programming flaws -- flaws that could be, at least in part, the result of endless personnel turmoil at the network for the last year.

    Whether it’s permanent or temporary, the current ratings malaise certainly raises larger questions for Fox News as it confronts a key transition period and figures out how to cover the Trump administration. So far, its "defend everything Trump does while complaining about liberal media bias" strategy doesn't seem to be paying off. 

    Keep in mind, last year Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly were posting blockbuster numbers at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. for Fox News. Today, they’re both gone and their replacement shows are struggling. Tucker Carlson Tonight is having trouble at 8 p.m., and The Five’s move to 9 p.m. has been, by Fox News standards, a ratings disappointment.

    Carlson’s decline at 8 p.m. must be especially troubling for Fox News executives since it’s a valuable time slot the network absolutely dominated for more than a decade with O’Reilly at the helm.  

    Nothing Carlson has tried in recent weeks amid the Trump scandal season has worked. Tucker has tried downplaying or ignoring the pile-up of bad news for Trump. And he’s also tried claiming the scandal coverage is all “hysteria”

    Keep in mind, O’Reilly had posted some staggering numbers earlier this year for Fox News at 8 p.m. -- numbers that, as of now, Carlson can only dream of equaling. (O’Reilly averaged nearly 4 million viewers during the first quarter of 2017; Carlson is routinely coming in 30-40 percent under those numbers.) 

    Carlson has also repeatedly finished behind CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 in the 25-54 demo, and twice last week landed in third place behind both Cooper and MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes.

    Overall, The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. has emerged as a ratings juggernaut for MSNBC this year, and especially this month.

    Meanwhile, MSNBC’s The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell has topped Hannity several times at 10 p.m. – both in the key demo and in overall ratings. That's the same Sean Hannity who, in the post-O’Reilly era, was supposed to be the network’s most powerful and influential attraction. Hannity’s “the alpha anchor right now,” Bloomberg suggested after O’Reilly’s departure. 

    But that hasn’t worked out.

    What’s so shocking about Fox News’ ratings woes is how swift the downward movement has been. “Through the first six months of 2016, FNC is enjoying the highest-rated year in its history in total day and primetime viewership,” The Wrap reported last June.

    One month later, in July 2016, Fox News’ implosion started when then-anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment. Since then, numerous key players have been publicly forced out at Fox, while others have walked away from the network.

    I can’t say I’m shocked by Fox News’ current ratings slump. Earlier this month, in the wake of O’Reilly’s forced departure, which was then followed by the forced departure of the channel’s co-president, I noted that Fox was poised for some tough times: “I also think the drip, drip, drip of on-air changes and off-camera firings and departures could unquestionably alter the dynamics for the long-running ratings winner."

    That internal turmoil, coupled with Trump’s scandal-plagued presidency, which shows no signs of abating, could signal a new ratings era in cable news.

    UPDATE:

    According to HuffPo, MSNBC "scored its best week in its 21-year-history" the week of May 15 "by beating out both CNN and Fox News in total prime-time viewers and among the demographic prized by advertisers."