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Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • With Gun Votes Pending, New York Times Again Whitewashes GOP’s Radical Obstruction

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Trying to jump-start the gun debate in America, Democrats last week, led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), were forced to stage a nearly 15-hour talking filibuster in the wake of the Orlando gun rampage that left 49 people dead at a gay nightclub. The marathon event was held in order to champion two gun measures. One would give the Justice Department authority to block gun sales to people on the  terror watch list (the "terror gap"), and the other would require background checks on nearly all gun sales. 

    Those votes are scheduled for Monday evening as amendments to a DOJ spending bill. Republicans will also put forward two measures; one purports to straighten the background check system while actually weakening it, and the other purports to block sales to suspected terrorists but has "an unworkable standard" in actually stopping any sales. 

    But The New York Times has already been downplaying any chance of Congress passing the Democrats' proposals. “Why the Orlando Shooting Is Unlikely to Lead to Major New Gun Laws,” read a June 16 headline.

    Why were the background check and terror gap efforts supposedly doomed? “Largely because of hotly contested Senate races in a bitter election year,” the newspaper reported. “Election-year politics will make a bill to expand background checks an uphill climb,” the Times stressed.  

    For readers, the storyline was clear: The two sides simply can’t agree on this one. Maybe next year -- because for now, Republicans just don’t see eye-to-eye with Democrats on gun legislation.

    But none of that glossed-over analysis is applicable to what’s happening today. And the framing the Times uses -- which was also employed by other news organizations -- categorically ignores what’s been unfolding in American politics since President Obama was elected, and specifically it ignores how the Republican Party has tried its best, via radical obstructionism, to thwart Obama in every conceivable way. And Republicans are doing it in a manner that’s unprecedented in modern American politics.

    Here’s the political context that’s been flushed down the memory hole since the Orlando massacre: Republicans don’t simply disagree with Obama on gun legislation; they disagree with him on everything. ("If he was for it, we had to be against it," former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.) Yet too many in the press still downplay that central fact.

    Indeed, so much of the congressional gun coverage last week glossed over the fact that Democrats had to stage a nearly 15-hour filibuster just to get Republicans to allow votes on gun legislation in the wake of another gun massacre. And these were gun amendments whose measures enjoy overwhelming, bipartisan support among voters.

    Media Matters has been documenting this journalism shortcoming for a very long time. Here was a recent thumbnail sketch of what blanketed GOP obstruction has looked like under Obama:

    Today's Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP's gun law obstruction, the Violence Against Women Act obstruction, the sequester obstruction, Supreme Court obstruction, minimum wage obstruction, 9/11 first responder obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, immigration reform obstruction, Chuck Hagel's confirmation obstruction, Susan Rice secretary of state obstruction, paid leave obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

    Good luck finding any of that context in the current coverage about the congressional gun votes. Instead, news consumers are supposed to pretend the last eight years of GOP obstruction never happened and that the gun votes this week are taking place in a vacuum.

    They’re also supposed to pretend one party in particular doesn’t sponsor obstructionism. Look at this June 14 Times article about the Orlando shooting and gunman Omar Mateen (emphasis added):

    Even if Mr. Mateen had remained on the watch list, it would not have stopped him from buying a gun. Congress blocked an attempt last year to give the F.B.I. the power to block gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists.

    But of course, “Congress” didn’t block the attempt in 2015; Republicans did.

    If you’re sensing déjà vu about gun massacres and jockeying over congressional votes, that’s because following the deadly rampage at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, CT, Republicans, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, blocked any attempt to vote on a gun safety bill to strengthen background checks.

    At the time, Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA) was among the few Republicans who tried to fashion together a compromise. In the end, the GOP abandoned that effort. Pressed to address the failure, Toomey explained:

    In the end, it didn't pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.

    Three years ago, Toomey revealed the underlying truth; he articulated his own party’s obstructionist blueprint. But most journalists politely filed that quote away, and they certainly haven’t dwelled on it in recent days as new gun votes loom.

    Meanwhile, back to the Times coverage. You know what would have provided additional context for the Times article, which chose to view the pending gun votes through the narrow prism of a soda straw? Polling data. The same day of the Times piece, new polling information showed that 86 percent of Americans support denying gun sales to anybody who’s on the government’s terror watch list, including 87 percent of Republicans. Numerous polls over the past few years have indicated that around 90 percent of Americans favor a background check for every gun sale. 

    As for the idea that Republicans can’t find common ground with Democrats on gun legislation because this year is an election year? That just defies logic and whitewashes what’s transpired for the last eight years.

    How do we know current Republican obstruction isn’t about election year positioning? We know because Republicans have been radically obstructing Obama every year he’s been in office, regardless of balloting.

    Remember these two initiatives that the GOP bizarrely blocked when no significant elections were pending:

    *Disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims (January 2013)

    *The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (December 2014)

    And don’t forget about the GOP’s illogical government shutdown of 2013 and the equally loopy sequestration that same year.

    It’s simply not credible to blame possible failed gun votes this week on “election year” politics. After eight years, we know the Republican Party’s radical obstructionist streak pays no attention to the calendar.

  • Pushing For Mosque Surveillance, Fox News Is Fighting The Last War

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Reaching for one of its favorite War on Terror talking points, Fox News is leading a charge in the wake of the Orlando gun massacre to push for surveillance of mosques in America. Convinced that a pressing response to the attack on a gay nightclub is for law enforcement to keep close tabs on Muslims at prayer, Fox News continues to hype the initiative as a solution to pending terror threats in the United States -- and specifically, to stem the tide of ISIS recruitment in America.

    But there’s no indication domestic mosque surveillance uncovers useful terror information. Just ask the New York Police Department, whose extensive, post-9/11 Muslim surveillance program turned out to be a “failure by any reasonable standard,” according to the Cato Institute.

    And now with ISIS focusing its recruitment online and hoping for self-radicalization among converts, the notion that law enforcement can round up ISIS sympathizers meeting and plotting inside American mosques runs counter to the facts.

    Nonetheless, Fox News is pushing for the divisive, Bush-era tactic to be revived and embraced. “How stupid is it to pull police officers out of the mosques? Absolutely stupid,” Rudy Giuliani complained on Fox News this week, while Greg Gutfeld compared Islam to biker gangs and suggested both needed to be watched closely to head off crime sprees.

    Not surprisingly, Fox News is echoing allegations often made by members of the Republican Party about how mosques are a breeding ground for homegrown terrorism and need to be spied on.

    "I want surveillance of certain mosques if that's OK," Republican Party presumptive nominee Donald Trump told a crowd in Birmingham, Ala. last November. That same week Trump announced he’d "strongly consider" shutting down mosques in the U.S. Trump raised the idea again earlier this week at a rally in Atlanta, saying, "We have to maybe check, respectfully, the mosques and we have to check other places because this is a problem that, if we don't solve it, it's going to eat our country alive." 

    For years, New York Republican Congressman Peter King, with the help of Fox News, led an anti-mosque crusade, complete with congressional hearings that were denounced as being McCarthy-like.

    Today’s endorsement of mosque surveillance represents Fox News’ long-running attempt to collectively criminalize Islam in America and to often portray Muslims as would-be terrorists. (Recall the open hysteria Fox News helped foment in its opposition to the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in 2011.)

    But Fox News’ advocacy for mosque surveillance, and its suggestion that it would help ferret out dangerous ISIS sympathizers, runs counter to recent events and counter to research that indicates those handful of American Muslims who embrace deadly violence are mostly self-radicalized and they become that way online, not by listening to sermons from radical Imams in U.S. mosques.

    In the wake of recent terror attacks in Boston, San Bernardino and Orlando, there were no findings that the bombers and gunmen were radicalized in their local mosques or planned their attacks there; that the mosques were in any way directly connected to the acts of violence. There were no sweeping indictments made by law enforcement.

    In fact in Boston, bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been threatened with expulsion from his mosque after he angrily interrupted a speaker who compared Prophet Muhammad with Dr. Martin Luther King. “The congregation shouted him out of the mosque,”said a spokesman for the mosque.

    And that fits what researchers have been reporting in recent years.

    Last December, George Washington University’s Program on Extremism issued a report, “ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa.” It showed “how social media plays a crucial role in the radicalization and, at times, mobilization of U.S.-based ISIS sympathizers,” according to the university.

    Key points from the report included:

    • "Several thousand Americans consume ISIS propaganda online creating what has been described as a 'radicalization echo chamber.' "
    • “Twitter is ‘by far the platform of choice’ for American activists to connect. Other routes include Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr, along with messaging services like ‘Kik, Telegram, surespot, and the dark web.’”

    Additionally, the report noted that jihadist radicalization in the United States is “significantly smaller” than in most European countries, in part because of fewer “radicalizing agents” in America, such as “radical mosques, extremist preachers, and recruiting networks.”

    Also last year, Scott Atran, co-founder of the Center for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Oxford University, reported his research indicated, “More than 80 per cent who join the Islamic State do so through peer-to-peer relationships, mostly with friends and sometimes family. Very few join in mosques or through recruitment by anonymous strangers.”

    The Associated Press reported that Atran told a meeting of the United Nations’ Security Council's counter-terrorism committee that "radicalization rarely occurs in mosques.”

    Meanwhile, a 2010 study by researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the number of radicalized Muslims in the U.S. was relatively low and that Muslim-American communities effectively prevent radicalization. 

    Rather than being a spawning ground for extremism, there are indications mosques are actively working to thwart it. That same 2010 study found “48 of the 120 Muslims suspected of plotting domestic terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, were turned in by fellow Muslims, including parents, mosque members and even a Facebook friend,” The New York Times reported.

    Last year, the Times examined ISIS’ recruiting efforts in the United States and detailed one example of a local Imam dissuading a possible convert named Amir: 

    Amir then had some long talks with Imam Magid, who pointed him to passages in the Quran that forbid killing other Muslims, innocent women and children. Amir concluded that the Islamic State was only sowing chaos and hatred, which the Prophet Muhammad abhorred.

    That kind of pushback against extremism from mosque leaders might be one reason why the NYPD’s massive surveillance program produced so little useful information. The operation, which remained secret for years, not only infiltrated mosques, but assigned detectives to map out entire Muslim communities, as well as track Muslims’ daily activities, and investigate college students.

    The goal was to “sniff out would-be terrorists before they could launch attacks,” according to the Cato Institute.

    Fox News likes to pretend it was an intelligence success, which is why it must be resuscitated. “We broke so many, so many plots by eavesdropping on these radical mosques,” Fox News’ Bo Dietl claimed last year.

    In fact, the exact opposite was true.

    “In more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques, the New York Police Department's secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation, the department acknowledged in court testimony unsealed late Monday,” the Associated Press reported.

    Correct. Six years of mosque surveillance in New York City in the wake of 9/11 did not produce a single lead or trigger one terrorism investigation for the NYPD.

    But now Fox News thinks in an age of online recruiting, snooping on U.S. mosques is the answer to unearthing terror threats?

  • It’s Not Just Trump: Suggesting Obama’s A Terrorist Sympathizer Has Been A Cornerstone Of The Conservative Media

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Of course Donald Trump went there. But should anyone be surprised?

    In the wake of the terror attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee seemed to suggest that President Obama isn’t waging a war on terror because he doesn’t want the terrorists defeated; because Obama somehow sympathizes with their cause.

    “He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It's one or the other,” Trump told Fox News on Monday. “We're led by a man that either is, is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind.” Trump added, “People cannot — they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the ways he acts and can't even mention the words radical Islamic terrorism. There's something going on. It's inconceivable."

    Suggesting Obama won’t defend the homeland or try to keep Americans safe ranks among the most reckless allegations a politicians can make. What would the Democratic equivalent be, just in terms of pure shock value? It would be like if Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 campaign claimed President George W. Bush had prior knowledge of the 9/11 terror attacks. It’s hard to even comprehend what the corresponding conspiracy claim would look like. And it’s unthinkable that a Democratic nominee would campaign on it.

    But if Trump’s thinly veiled suggestion about Obama’s allegiance today has produced shock among political reporters and pundits, and if anyone in the media is surprised that a major party nominee would sink to such depths on the campaign trail, they shouldn’t be.

    The sad fact is the right-wing media has been wallowing in this fever swamp for a very long time. (And yes, the press has mostly looked away from the radical turn.) Trump’s now just borrowing their hare-brained allegation suggesting Obama can’t be trusted to defend the American way of life because Obama doesn’t really endorse it, and he’s using the attack line as a general election talking point. (Candidates traditionally use surrogates if they want to lob dark, unseemly allegations against their opponent. Not Trump.)

    Recall that Trump himself was a central protagonist in the birther charade of 2011 when he was going on Fox News and suggesting Obama was hiding his birth certificate “because maybe it says he is a Muslim.”

    Following widespread criticism, the Trump campaign is trying to walk things back with implausible explanations. Via spokeswoman Hope Hicks, Trump sent a statement to Bloomberg claiming he was “referring to the fact that at times President Obama seems more in support of Muslims than Israel.” (Trump also announced he was revoking The Washington Post’s press credentials for reporting on his comments yesterday.)

    But his comments on Fox & Friends weren’t even the first time Trump has made bizarre insinuations about President Obama’s allegiances. Trump told right-wing radio host Michael Savage that perhaps Obama “doesn’t want to get rid of the problem” of Islamic terrorism. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on.” (Savage, for his part, thinks “someone” in the White House “is playing for the other side.”)

    As Right Wing Watch reported, at a rally last November, Trump said about Obama’s handling of the alleged threat from Muslims, “We can’t close our eyes. I don’t know what’s wrong with Obama, he wants to close his eyes and pretend it’s not happening. Why is he so emphatic on not solving the problem? There’s something we don’t know about. There’s something we don’t know about.”

    And it's not just Trump who's been wallowing in that outrageous rhetoric this election cycle. After the Paris terror attack last year, Ted Cruz claimed Obama "does not wish to defend this country." (A Cruz advisor claimed Obama had “switched sides” in the war against terror.)

    Today there’s a certain irony in Trump trying to mainstream this ugly attack, considering Obama’s enjoying some of his highest approval ratings in years, confirming that the terrorist-sympathy claim resides on the fringes of American politics.

    The disconcerting nonsense all stems from a failed, eight-year campaign by the right-wing media to portray Obama as foreign and an other, as not like you and me; to depict him as untrustworthy because he supposedly doesn’t subscribe to American values. It’s a claim that’s been embraced as the gospel among Fox News and GOP faithful.

    “Barack Obama does not have the will of the American people, Americanism in his soul,” Fox News’ Keith Ablow once declared.

    Obama haters have been told for years that not only does the president not love America, and doesn’t “give a shit” about protecting it from terror, but it’s probably because he tilts toward terrorist sympathies.

    The day after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, when Fox News' Bill O’Reilly wondered why Obama refused to condemn radical Islam, radio host Bill Cunningham suggested “maybe his middle name is a clue, as well as the fact that he spent his childhood practicing the Muslim faith.”

    Later that year when President Obama orchestrated the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, Fox News’ Ablow denounced the move and speculated it happened because the commander-in-chief “doesn’t affiliate with patriotism” and “wants out of America.”

    Last November, O’Reilly regular guest Dennis Miller claimed Obama wouldn’t get “nasty” with ISIS because the president has “Islamic sympathies,” while O’Reilly stressed, “he certainly doesn't want any part in the war on terror.”

    And then there was Benghazi.

    In the hours after the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Libya in September 2012, then-Republican Party nominee Mitt Romney staged a late-night press conference to attack Obama [emphasis added]:

    “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

    Candidate Romney only toyed with that premise in 2012. But for years, the fervent idea of Obama’s questionable sympathies became a strong undercurrent of the right-wing media’s Benghazi obsession. The churning, man-made controversy allowed Obama’s haters to project their ugliest fantasies and depict the president as a traitor who chose to let Americans die in Libya at the hands of Islamic terrorists.

    And it fed the flames of the ugly allegations about Obama being a Manchurian Candidate who let Americans die in Benghazi and "sacrificed American lives for politics."

    This is nasty, vile right-wing media stuff. And now the Republican Party is championing it during an election year. 

  • New York Post Columnist Claims Obama Blamed America For Orlando Terror Attack

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    New York Post columnist John Podhoretz asserted in the wake of Sunday’s mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando that President Obama suggested Americans were to blame for the terror attack. The column ran under the Post headline, “Obama: ‘we’ are to blame, not Islamic terrorism, for massacre.”

    Podhoretz’s claim is categorically false and is easily debunked by a simple reading of Obama’s statement. That a columnist for a major market American newspaper would publish such a purposefully false allegation about the president at a time of national mourning is rather disturbing.

    The allegation stands as a stark example of how Obama’s conservative critics routinely misinform during times of national tragedy.

    If, as a partisan, you don’t agree with how Obama’s fighting terror, if you want to detail ways the United States could be more forcefully and effectively dealing with the threat, go for it. Write a column. Call out the president for being wrong-headed if you think he is.

    But to have published a column even before the 50 dead bodies had been removed from the Orlando nightclub and completely fabricate the claim that Obama blamed American society for the Florida gun rampage? That’s beyond the pale and Podhoretz ought to be entirely ashamed of himself.

    Podhoretz essentially lied to his readers about what Obama said on Sunday, probably assuming they’d never double check the facts.

    Obviously, Obama never said “we” are to blame for the terror attack, as the Post headline suggested. Why on earth would he? It’s an illogical premise to even start with and I can’t imagine any American president ever entertaining such a notion. Worse, Podhoretz doesn't provide any evidence to support the falsehood that Obama claimed “we” are to blame for the massacre -- none.

    Podhoretz laments that Obama -- in comments he labeled "disgusting" and "astonishing" -- was supposedly trying to distract from the terrorism angle by saying "'we need the strength and courage to change' our attitudes toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community." Here's what Obama said:

    In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families -- that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more -- as a country -- by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.

    As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts -- friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.

    In Podhoretz's view, a call for unity is "disgusting." 

    Still railing against Obama, Podhoretz insisted, “We Americans do not bear collective responsibility for this attack. Quite the opposite.” But in his subdued comments while trying to unite the country, Obama never said anything about Americans shouldering "collective responsibility" for the attack.

    Does this sound like Obama’s was blaming Americans? From his remarks: 

    So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American -- regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation -- is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.

    The columnist simply fabricated that premise in order to denounce the president. 

  • O'Reilly Is Now Challenging Hannity As Trump's Biggest Fan At Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    At a time when the roof seemed to be collapsing in on his campaign, Donald Trump found some recent refuge in the form of Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program.  

    Stumbling through a self-inflicted crisis that was sparked when Trump suggested that an American-born judge with “Mexican heritage” could not be impartial presiding over lawsuits pending against Trump University, the presumptive Republican nominee found himself under constant attack. The denunciations came even from within the conservative media and from members of the Republican Party.

    But amid the hailstorm of contempt, O’Reilly provided temporary shelter this week when he told Fox viewers that the federal judge in question ought to recuse himself from the Trump U. lawsuit as Trump had insisted. O’Reilly didn’t sign off on the idea that the judge’s heritage made him untrustworthy. But the Fox talker did suggest Trump had created such a controversy with his comments that it would just be better for the judge to step aside.

    In other words, O’Reilly wanted to reward Trump for his bullying tactics. He wanted to reward Trump’s novel strategy of trying to create conditions for a judge’s recusal by manufacturing a controversy about the judge. Or as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple put it, “In Bill O’Reilly’s world, friends excuse friends for being racist.”

    O’Reilly also recently laid down a marker when he announced it was completely out of bounds to discuss whether Trump’s a racist. “You don’t use the ‘R word’ unless you are David Duke,” O’Reilly told Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX). “Unless you have got a history of trying to denigrate minorities or other people.”

    O’Reilly insists he knows Trump’s not a racist because O’Reilly’s known him a long time. But of course, the Republican has a very clear “history of trying to denigrate minorities or other people.” (Including suggesting that Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and proposing that Muslims be banned from entering America.)

    In a campaign season that’s featured an unusual amount of squabbling between the GOP nominee and Fox personalities -- two forces normally united in their partisan pursuits -- O’Reilly’s willingness to stand beside Trump and his bizarre attack on a judge suggests O’Reilly might be picking his lane for the general election within Fox News by cozying up -- even more than he already was -- to the unpopular GOP nominee.

    For good reason, Sean Hannity has largely served as the poster boy for Fox News’ willingness to embrace Trump’s candidacy. Hannity’s fawning Trump coverage has led to widespread ridicule, including heated arguments with Trump’s former chief rival for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).  

    But O’Reilly’s handling of Trump has been just as embarrassing. O’Reilly has given Trump the kid gloves treatment over any number of scandals during the course of the campaign, and as the calendar shifts to the general election, things only seem to be getting friendlier between the two.

    There’s little doubt that Hannity sycophantic programming has produced ratings dividends. In May, his show enjoyed the largest year-to-year ratings boost among viewers 25-54 at the network. Hannity’s 35 percent bump helped him pass Megyn Kelly and become Fox’s second-highest rated show.

    Hannity still trails O’Reilly, who’s in no danger of losing his 16-year streak as Fox’s best-rated host. And it’s possible O’Reilly was always going to end up serving as Trump’s television consigliere. (The two have been pals for decades.) But O’Reilly also sees the Nielsen needle moving and understands what produces good ratings at Fox: being nice to Donald Trump. (New York recently reported that, "According to one Fox News producer, the channel's ratings dip whenever an anti-Trump segment airs.”)

    In general, you don’t get the feeling O’Reilly has posters of Trump hanging in his basement the way viewers might assume Sean Hannity does at home. But there’s little doubt that O’Reilly now functions as a de facto Trump campaign advocate. (Even though O’Reilly gets defensive about that claim.)  And there’s also little doubt that O’Reilly wants to cash in on that Trump champion role between now and November and make sure nobody else at Fox News passes him while cornering the Trump cheerleading market.

    There’s no question within Fox News, ratings envy fuels rivalries between program hosts. When Megyn Kelly enjoyed a star turn last year in the wake of being publicly attacked by Trump, CNN reported that O’Reilly resented her success. In fact, O’Reilly even lobbied internally that a post-debate special Kelly hosted which garnered huge audiences shouldn’t be counted toward her regular ratings tally, according to CNN.

    Amidst hostilities between Fox News and Trump in February, O’Reilly hosted the GOP politician for an interview where he unloaded more criticism on Kelly. Noticeably, O’Reilly did nothing to defend his Fox colleague during the interview. Kelly later told More magazine, “I do wish that O’Reilly had defended me more in his interview with Trump. I would have defended him more.”

    And increasingly, that has become O’Reilly’s permanent role, to serve as a Trump protector. “Trump appears on the O’Reilly Factor almost weekly, engaging in pointless blather with its host—they joke about their friendship, while O’Reilly lobs softball questions (before spending the rest of the show telling his other guests how tough an interview he just conducted),” noted Isaac Chotiner at Slate recently

    Added Erik Wemple at the Post, “Three decades of [sharing] ballgames and vanilla milkshakes have turned ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ into a laundry room for Trump. His messes come in, and O’Reilly, OxiClean in hand, cleans them up for him.”

    O’Reilly No Spin Zone has been turned into a Soft Landing Zone for Trump.

  • Dear CNN, It’s Not Too Late To Fix Your Jeffrey Lord Problem

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The good news for CNN was that a panel discussion Tuesday night featuring Donald Trump surrogate Jeffrey Lord went viral and produced all kinds of media buzz. The bad news for CNN was that lots of people were mocking the segment and shaking their heads at the idea that Lord is employed by the network as a political analyst.

    After months of watching Lord continually stretch the boundaries of good taste and common sense on CNN, observers were collectively gobsmacked that the news channel continues to give someone so “inane” a national platform.

    The recent fury erupted when, doing his best to defend Trump from his racist suggestion that an American judge with “Mexican heritage” could not be impartial, Lord suggested it was Trump who was righting a wrong by attacking the judge. (Pretzel logic barely describes Lord’s attempted spin.)

    As the general election season now unfolds, the CNN train wreck on Tuesday night likely represented a glimpse of what’s to come during the showdown between Trump and Hillary Clinton. And that’s why CNN ought to figure out what to do about its ongoing Jeffrey Lord problem as he quickly becomes the face of CNN’s campaign coverage.

    As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias suggested on Twitter, “CNN really needs to reevaluate the news value of Jeffrey Lord.”

    I’m sympathetic to the unique booking challenges a Trump campaign poses for a news channel like CNN. Traditionally during a White House run when seeking out balance, producers find a cadre of skilled media folks who can articulate or defend a candidate’s position and match them up with advocates from the other side. That’s done in the name of equality and it’s done in the hopes of producing entertaining debates.

    But with Trump, large swaths of the conservative media complex are out of play for producers because in a historic move, so many Republican-friendly pundits refuse to endorse the Republican nominee or are actively rallying readers and viewers against him. So the pundit pool is much smaller this election cycle, which means choices for producers are limited.

    And it’s not as if Lord’s reckless claims are going unchallenged on CNN. As The New Republic noted, eight different people Tuesday basically took turns telling Lord “he was an idiot” for defending Trump’s attack on the judge overseeing a Trump University lawsuit.

    Some CNN pundits have made it clear that they’re not happy, or at least annoyed at having a national “debate” while being anchored down by someone like Lord who pushes baffling, nonsensical claims. “It really is just too much for me on an empty stomach in the morning, Jeffrey,” CNN’s Ana Navarro scolded Lord recently, after he compared Trump to Abraham Lincoln.

    Towing around Lord during a panel debate is like have a sports car hitched to an RV; it’s really hard to get out of second and third gear. Why? His insistence on defending every indefensible Trump utterance.

    Remember when Trump said he could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and still no lose support among Republican primary voters? You get the sinking feeling that if Trump actually did gun someone down on the sidewalk, Lord would pop up on CNN defending the shooting.

    This was the inevitable hurdle CNN faced last summer when it put Lord, a previously fringe media player who has pushed for Obama’s impeachment, on its payroll as a virtual hand-picked surrogate from Trump himself.

    Media Matters instantly raised red flags about what the long-term implications would be for the news cable channel:

    Lord has a history of pushing fringe rhetoric and misinformation. He engaged in a "profoundly ahistorical" crusade to deny the lynching of a black man, pushed bogus conspiracies about Democrats, compared his political opponents to Nazis and the KKK, and defended Donald Trump's anti-immigrant remarks.

    CNN is first and foremost a news organization and its primary duty is to inform viewers. But I understand it wants to post healthy ratings and I’m guessing executives think Lord helps do that by generating buzz and outrage.

    However, does anyone honestly think in an election year when viewers are flocking to cable news that CNN would take a substantial ratings hit if it no longer regularly featured in primetime a Trump fan who defends Trump's hesitancy to denounce white nationalists and regularly spouts tasteless rhetoric about racism in America?

    I’m not advocating firing Lord. I don’t think pundits should be run off the air just because I disagree with them. And I certainly don’t think news channels should be punished if an on-staff pundit once or twice says something dopey and unsubstantiated on television.

    But I do think that as Trump’s often offensive campaign drags on, it’s become increasingly clear that Lord’s insights and analysis don’t rise to the level of debate that CNN ought to be producing. And in fact, much of his commentary is becoming downright offensive and reckless. Meaning, does CNN want to cover the Trump campaign freak show, or does CNN want to help co-produce it?

    Referencing Tuesday night’s Lord fiasco, Crooks and Liars' John Amato wrote of CNN, “This was an important, historic night in the history of the United States, and your coverage was hijacked by a paid partisan who is either consciously disruptive, or else is just plain crazy.”

    The problem is that like Fox News did with Glenn Beck, CNN is in a way sponsoring the mainstreaming of some very toxic and utterly unsubstantiated rhetoric, along with indefensible misinformation via Lord (i.e. “The Ku Klux Klan is a leftist group”).

    So CNN faces some choices: Does it want Lord to be the face of its election season, and is the entire point of campaign coverage to be noticed and generate debate, regardless of how debasing that conversation is? If that’s the goal, CNN and Lord are currently succeeding.

  • Conservative Media Struggles To Defend Trump And His Widening University Scam Scandal

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    What good is having a right-wing echo chamber if it’s not cranked up and blaring out a disciplined message during the presidential campaign? The conservative movement continues to grapple with that propaganda question in the wake of Donald Trump clinching the nomination, which has created deep fissures within the right-wing media and its historically united front.

    For decades, conservatives have taken pride in their media bubble that not only keeps Republican fans selectively informed about breaking news, but also bashes away at all political foes. In full-fledged campaign mode, the right-wing media can effectively serve as a battering ram that Republicans use to attack their enemies or fend off in-coming volleys.

    But Trump has scrambled that long-held equation. Embracing positions that often fall outside the orthodoxy of modern-day conservatism, while simultaneously rolling out non-stop insults, Trump has presented conservative pundits with a monumental headache: How do you defend a creation like Trump? Or as one National Review Trump headline lamented last month, “What’s a Conservative to Do?”

    That riddle is especially tricky when Trump puts would-be allies in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the truly indefensible, like the widening scandal surrounding Trump University, the presumptive nominee’s former real estate seminar business. Over the years the dubious venture has been the subject of several ongoing fraud investigations and lawsuits, including one by the state of New York on behalf of 5,000 alleged victims.

    “It’s fraud. … straight-up fraud,” the state’s Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reiterated during an MSNBC interview last week after a judge unsealed court documents from one of the Trump U. lawsuits and allowed for a more detailed look into the allegations of deceit.

    The strange part? Some key conservative voices agree with the Democrat’s legal assessment. That’s why back in February, a National Review writer denounced the Trump seminars as “a massive scam.” And last month, The Weekly Standard warned that Trump U. represented a “political time bomb” that could doom the candidate’s November chances: “Democrats will see to that.” (Both magazines have opposed Trump for months and have pointed to Trump U. as a reason for their opposition.)

    That’s what’s so startling about watching the conservative media this campaign season: It’s been completely knocked off its game. Known for its regimented messaging and willingness to almost robotically defend any Republican front-runner and nominee, Trump is finding only a smattering of defenders when it comes to damning allegations about his scam seminars.

    And when Trump recently escalated the Trump U. story by attacking Judge Gonzalo Curiel and insisted he couldn’t be impartial because of his “Mexican heritage,” the presumptive nominee found himself even further isolated within the conservative movement. (The Wall Street Journal editorial page called Trump’s judiciary attack “offensive” and “truly odious”; Bill O'Reilly did defend Trump last night.)

    As for the scamming allegations, even for members of the conservative media who are willing to try to assist Trump, there’s very little to grab on to in terms of defending the scandal-plagued Trump U. Based on mountains of allegations and complaints from angry students -- students with no partisan political ax to grind -- all indications point to a widespread fraud operating under Trump’s name and one that bilked victims out of millions of dollars.

    As The Atlantic noted after reviewing previously secret training materials for Trump U., “the playbook focuses on the seminars’ real purpose: to browbeat attendees into purchasing expensive Trump University course packages.” According to an affidavit from former student Richard Hewson, he and his wife “concluded that we had paid over $20,000 for nothing, based on our belief in Donald Trump and the promises made at the free seminar and three-day workshop.”

    The con appeared to touch every aspect of the real estate selling events. Instead of getting an implied, in-person meeting with Trump at one three-day seminar, some attendees were allowed to take their picture with a cardboard cutout of him. That’s one reason Schneiderman dubbed the whole program an “elaborate bait-and-switch” scheme. (Trump’s personal, immersed involvement was a key selling point.)

    Still, some loyal conservative have tried to explain away the allegations. Last week on Fox, Tucker Carlson tried to downplay the damage by wondering if Trump U. was a “scam” the same way Princeton is a “scam.” Over at Outnumbered, co-host Jedediah Bila asked if Trump U.’s allegedly fraudulent practices weren’t just good "aggressive sales tactics.” She added, “I mean when the public hears this story, I'm wondering do they just see this as non-story?”

    Bila’s co-host Melissa Francis also didn’t see what the big deal was: “You know, it goes to the story of him as an aggressive businessperson who wanted to sort of profit at all costs which is kind of what business is all about.”

    And former Republican candidate Ben Carson assured Sean Hannity that, “I recently talked to a physician who went to Trump University, and this man is very wealthy, but he's not wealthy from being a physician. He's wealthy from what he learned at Trump University and learning how to do investments.”

    Note that many of Trump’s other friends at Fox have been a bit more suspect on the matter. “Trump has a simple assignment, find five people who are graduates who are willing to go on TV and say, you know, my life was improved, my income went up, it was a good experience,” announced Newt Gingrich on Sean Hannity’s show, rather than categorically defending the dubious seminars. (To date, Trump has struggled to produce a multitude of satisfied graduates.)

    Conservative talk show host Larry Elder also appeared on Hannity’s show last week to discuss Trump U. and insisted that while it was a “minor issue,” nonetheless “Trump should have settled this a long time ago.”

    Even Trump’s fiercest media defender,, has taken a timid approach to the Trump U. fraud story, with the site refusing to offer up a full-throated defense of the alleged scam.

    The ferocious conservative echo chamber isn’t built for nuance and it’s not designed for internal debate. But by sparking so much general dissention and by putting conservatives in the position of having to defend something as noxious as Trump U., the nominee is helping to mute the right-wing media voice this campaign season.

  • Can Trump Whine His Way To The White House With Complaints About “Biased” Media Coverage?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    That was quite a temper tantrum Donald Trump threw at his press conference this week.

    Irked that news reports raised questions about his promised donations to American veterans and their charities, Trump responded by denouncing the political press as "disgusting" and “among the most dishonest people that I’ve ever met.” Trump even dismissed one ABC News reporter as "a sleaze," and mocked another from CNN as “a real beauty.”

    Trash talking the press is hardly new for Trump. During the primary season, he routinely set aside time at rallies to denigrate journalists as “scum” and “disgusting”; attacks his supporters often amplified in person and online.  

    What made Trump’s meltdown this week so noteworthy, and probably what shocked the Beltway media, was that it came during the general election campaign season, where these kinds of vicious, personal attacks coming directly from the presumptive nominee are unheard of. 

    “Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, assailed those reporting on his candidacy with a level of venom rarely seen at all, let alone in public, from the standard-bearer of a major political party,” The New York Times reported. (GOP media bashing is most often handled by surrogates and by Republican allies in the press.)

    Yes, some previous Republican nominees have chastised the press, sometimes with glee and sometimes with genuine disdain. “Annoy the Media: Re-elect Bush” bumper stickers were a favorite among Republicans during George H.W. Bush’s 1992 re-election run. Sen. John McCain’s campaign denounced The New York Times for an article it published in 2008 detailing McCain’s closeness to a lobbyist. (Many people read the article as an implication of an affair between McCain and the lobbyist, but the paper eventually update it with a “Note to Readers” saying it “did not intend to conclude” that the lobbyist had “engaged in a romantic affair” with McCain.)

    But overall, McCain enjoyed warm relations with reporters during his 2008 run, and those previous press attacks weren’t nearly as ferocious and personal as Trump’s are today. (Can you imagine Bush Sr. calling an ABC reporter a “sleaze” during a 1992 press conference?) Those attacks were never seen as being a pillar of a November campaign, the way Trump is promising his media insults will continue in coming months.

    What Trump’s doing is employing a right-wing talk radio dream strategy, where whining about the so-called liberal media is elevated and presented as a pressing issue facing America.

    And that’s why Rush Limbaugh was so ecstatic in the wake of Trump’s public tantrum. “That was the kind of press conference Republicans voters have been dying to see for who knows how many years,” the talker gushed. “Trump felt the need to correct the record today and did so in his own inimitable way, which basically attacked the media for dishonesty and corruption.” 

    Fox News' Peter Johnson Jr. was equally animated. He cheered Trump for “saying, 'I have a message, you may not like it, but you’re not going to take me down. I will be heard fair and square. I will either win or lose. But I will not lose because of an unfair media.'”

    Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with questioning the press and holding journalists accountable. But that’s not what Trump’s doing. He’s wallowing in self-pity without producing any proof of media malfeasance. Trump can’t point to any factual errors in the reporting on his charitable giving; the story that set off his most recent anti-media screed.

    Complaining about so-called liberal media bias has been a hallmark of the conservative movement for decades, and has sometimes been featured as a sidebar during presidential campaigns. Trump now wants to move it to the main stage. But hurdles appear on the horizon.

    First, he’s already won the Republican primary, which is more likely the season to energize hardcore supporters with allegations of media manipulation. That’s why this same anti-press crusade worked so well last November in the aftermath of the contentious Republican Party primary debate hosted by CNBC. Virtually all the candidates and most of the conservative media joined forces and issued indignant denunciations of CNBC’s allegedly dishonest debate moderators. The swarm served as a unifying ritual of outrage for the conservative movement.

    Trump’s now in the general election and needs to expand his base beyond the true believers. To be successful in November, he’s trying to lure voters who have likely voted Democratic in the past and who don’t identify as Fox News fanatics. It’s less likely those types of crossover voters will be motivated by allegations that the press is out get Trump.

    Secondly, a sizeable portion of the conservative media infrastructure isn’t supporting Trump. In fact, in a bizarre flip of the script previously documented by Media Matters, during the primary season some key conservative media voices have actually criticized the Beltway press for being too soft on the Republican nominee. So if there are Republican-friendly pundits on the record saying the press needs to be tougher on Trump, that obviously blunts the candidate’s claim that the “biased” media’s being too tough on him.

    There’s also the issue of temperament and the fact that most voters think Trump is severely lacking in that area. A Fox News poll last month indicated 65 percent of voters don’t think Trump has the “temperament” to serve as president, and a CNN poll in May found the number was even higher: 70 percent.

    Regularly staging campaign press conferences in coming months to pick fights with reporters is unlikely to improve Trump’s standing there.

    Already committed to running a completely unorthodox campaign, Trump’s now gambling that press attacks can produce votes in November.

  • Vetting Trump: The Vietnam War

    Why Have Democrats Been Held To Tougher Media Standard?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Donald Trump recently made headlines when he spoke at the annual Rolling Thunder biker rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Portrayed as a way to “bolster support among veterans,” Trump rallied the crowd of bikers and their supporters with promises to “rebuild our military” and “take care of our veterans.”

    But in the Rolling Thunder rally coverage, there was little press attention paid to the fact that Trump himself actively avoided the draft during the Vietnam War, which seemed relevant considering he was speaking to so many Vietnam vets at an event dedicated to honoring America’s prisoners of war and military members who are missing in action. Typically the campaign press lingers over issues of awkward optics like that. But not for Trump and Rolling Thunder.

    While writing “the blunt-spoken Mr. Trump” “likes to stress his desire to strengthen the military and improve how veterans are treated,” The New York Times made no reference to Trump’s Vietnam avoidance.

    Reuters included just a passing reference to how Trump “did not serve in the military.” And The Washington Post managed to fit in its dispatch a single sentence noting, “Trump himself avoided the draft through four student deferments and was later medically disqualified from service.”

    Trump graduated college in 1968 and managed to not serve in the Vietnam War as the conflict reached its deadly apex. For some reason this campaign season the press doesn’t much care about the topic and has largely walked away from the model of previous cycles when Baby Boomer candidates were repeatedly pressed to explain their ‘60s wartime years.

    In general, the larger umbrella topic of Vietnam has come up in Trump coverage in two specific ways. But the questions to date have revolved around a pair of modern-day controversies: When Trump derided Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in North Vietnam, for being captured by the enemy, and the controversy that has swirled around Trump’s pledge to raise and donate $6 million to veterans groups. (Trump’s McCain comments were referenced in several of the stories about his Rolling Thunder appearance.)

    In fact, much of Trump’s contentious news conference on Tuesday featured him taking questions about the donations. (And then him mocking reporters).

    But in terms of Trump having been an able-bodied American, college-aged male at the height of the Vietnam War and what actions he took to avoid serving? Those questions have been of little or no concern to journalists this year, despite the fact that the official campaign story of how Trump avoided the war ought to spark lots of questions from curious journalists.

    The Trump tale: A former “star athlete” in high school who friends say could have played baseball professionally, Trump was deemed medically unfit to serve in 1968 because of bone spurs in both his heels. Free of military service, Trump was then able to focus on a lifestyle as the bachelor son of a millionaire real estate developer. ("When I graduated from college, I had a net worth of perhaps $200,000," he wrote in his 1987 autobiography Trump: The Art of the Deal.)

    What’s remarkable about the media’s willingness to look away from the issue is that the last three Democratic nominees who were also college-aged men during the Vietnam War era were often hounded by media questions during the campaign season about either their lack of military experience (Bill Clinton), or they were forced to explain and defend their service overseas (Al Gore and John Kerry).

    Even though Gore was among just a handful of Harvard graduates from his Class of 1969 to volunteer for the war, Gore’s tour of duty was often belittled by journalists during the 2000 campaign. Writing in February 2000, a former Gore aide marveled at the proliferation of news articles about Gore’s supposed exaggerations, which often centered on claims he “overstated his Army service in Vietnam.”

    And of course, Kerry’s medal-winning service in Vietnam became the target of a Republican smear campaign during the 2004 campaign; an ugly smear operation that the press legitimized by not forcefully debunking the obvious lies at its center.

    As for Clinton, how many trees did newspaper publishers kill in order to delve into every possible nook and cranny regarding his lack of Vietnam service during the 1992 campaign? How many Clinton draft board members were interviewed, how many old letters were leaked, and how many Yale friends had their memories probed in search of key details from the late `60s? It was all treated as a Supremely Important campaign story by the media. 

    Trump bypassing Vietnam? Not so much.

    To their credit, the Washington Post, New York Daily News and Politico are among those that have published detailed looks at how Trump avoided serving in Vietnam and the candidate’s “shifting accounts.” But those articles all ran nearly a year ago and since then the topic has been of very little interest to those newsrooms and most others. (The Daily Beast recently proved to be an exception.)

    Today, the campaign press doesn’t seem to care about Trump’s lack of Vietnam service. But in 1992, the Times editorialized that of course the topic was central to campaigns:

    Voters have good reason to examine this issue. Whether or not one accepts the propriety of delving into Governor Clinton's private life, there can be no doubt about the legitimacy of asking how a public official behaved during the Vietnam years; the question provides an illuminating test.

    Overall, additional references to Trump’s deferments have been made. But very few have addressed the specifics of his medical story.

    What’s amazing in contrasting the lack of coverage this cycle with previous ones is the way Clinton dealt with the Vietnam War and how Trump dealt with it 50 years ago are somewhat similar. So shouldn’t they be equally newsworthy?

    Back in the 1960s, both Clinton and Trump, like millions of men at the time, received deferments while they were in college. Both men then faced exposure to the draft after they graduated (Clinton in 1969, Trump in 1968) and became 1-A, or "available for service."

    Both men were then able to avoid being drafted. Trump did it by getting a medical deferment for bone spurs, therefore classified 1-Y.

    “One big question is whether Trump actively sought the deferment by bringing a letter from his own doctor to the physical citing the bone spur problem,” noted Politico last year. “Young men with access to friendly family physicians had this advantage at the time in dealing with draft physicals.”

    Added Trump biographer Wayne Barrett, “There’s no question it fit a pattern of avoidance that was commonplace in his generation.”

    That sounds like a news story to me, especially when Trump is already making headlines about U.S. veterans. 

  • There Is A Paid Speech Controversy The Press Should Cover: Trump’s

    Trump Made Millions Addressing Alleged “Scam” Marketing Company

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Signaling long ago that it would never tire of writing about -- and generally denouncing -- the topic of paid speeches Hillary Clinton gave as a private citizen, the press keeps piling on. Just last week, The Washington Post added to its already mountainous Clinton speech coverage by publishing another long take, this one complete with charts and graphs.

    Following the press’ lead, Republican operatives are reportedly scouring the political countryside in search of what are now often portrayed as Clinton’s near-mythical speech transcripts.

    But note that this media spotlight only searches out one target: Hillary Clinton.

    And that’s been among the most baffling elements of the media’s obsession with Clinton’s speaking fees: Why are her lecture circuit earnings the only ones that matter? When so many prominent Republican candidates previously cashed big checks making paid speeches (and some of them cashed the checks while running for president), why are only the Democratic front-runner’s speeches considered to be newsworthy and borderline controversial?

    Those recent Republican candidates include Mike HuckabeeBen CarsonJeb BushCarly FiorinaMitt RomneyHerman CainNewt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani, who pocketed more than $11 million in the thirteen months prior to announcing his candidacy in 2007.

    And yes, Donald Trump.

    It turns out that a big chunk of Trump’s speaking fees revolve around ACN, a controversial multilevel marketing company that’s been accused of bilking people out of millions of dollars.

    If presented in proper context by the press, Trump’s long-running and lucrative relationship with ACN would essentially eliminate questions about Clinton’s speeches. And if queries persisted, the press would have to demand Trump also release nearly a decade worth of transcripts.

    In truth, there has been some good reporting on Trump's questionable relationship with ACN. (Interestingly, some of it has been done by the conservative press.) But apart from the initial flurry of reports last summer, Trump’s ACN association -- like so many scandals involving the presumptive Republican nominee -- has largely faded from view. And virtually none of the coverage has focused on the issue of paid speeches, or suggested Trump release transcripts to his six-figure ACN pep rallies, the way the press has hounded Clinton over that issue.

    Here’s the key point: Clinton’s paid speeches, whether to financial institutions, universities or trade associations, have never represented endorsements. On the other hand, Trump has spent years giving paid speeches and appearances specifically to ACN and quite clearly endorsing the company: “ACN has a reputation for success, success that’s really synonymous with the Trump name.” 

    In 2009 and 2011, ACN executives appeared on Trump’s NBC reality show, Celebrity Apprentice. And during one episode, Trump touted a “revolutionary” videophone that ACN was rolling out: “I simply can’t imagine anybody using this phone and not loving it.” (The product quickly flopped.)

    ACN’s website once bragged how, "Trump is a fixture at ACN International Training Events, setting the record for the most appearances from the ACN stage by any ACN special guest speaker." (The boasts have since been deleted.)

    In fact, it seemed the whole point of his speeches and personal appearances were for Trump to boost ACN’s brand and convince more people to buy into its sales system. “To prop up its business, ACN relies heavily on Trump to recruit news salespeople into the fold,” The Daily Caller noted.

    Being a multilayered marketing company means ACN relentlessly recruits people to sell its products.

    As Slate explained:

    Products sold through the multilevel marketing model aren’t sold in stores. Instead individuals purchase a startup kit (always encouraged, but not always required) and then contract with the company for the right to sell the merchandise to other individuals. They receive a commission on each sale but are not actually employed by the company. So far, so familiar. That’s the classic Avon Lady model.

    But selling goods one by one to your neighbors and friends isn’t the way to riches, no matter how much you hound them or otherwise guilt-trip them into making purchases. So multilevel marketing companies incentivize their salespeople to recruit other salespeople, promising them a cut of all that person’s sales, as long as both the original seller and the new recruit remain active.

    Becoming an ACN salesperson costs money. The company charges a $499 initiation fee, and then “ACN representatives are charged a $149 annual renewal fee, and they often pay $39.99 a month for a package of technology and marketing materials, plus extra fees to attend company meetings and conferences.” 

    Trump now seems to realize the political downside to his ACN cheerleading. When asked about his cozy, decade-long relationship with ACN, Trump last year told The Wall Street Journal he didn’t really know much about the company. (“I know nothing about the company other than the people who run the company.”) This is a company, as the Journal reported, that has paid Trump “millions of dollars” “over the past decade.”

    Indeed, Trump once bragged that in 2006 the company paid him $2.5 million for a single speech. And last year when Trump filed a financial disclosure with the Federal Election Commission, three ACN speeches/appearances from 2014 and 2015 were listed among his income. Trump pocketed $450,000 for each one.

    Why are Trump’s ACN six-figure paychecks a big deal? And why, if Hillary Clinton had spent years hyping a company as suspicious as ACN, would there probably already have been Republican-led congressional hearings into that relationship?

    From the Journal [emphasis added]:

    Mr. Trump’s endorsement helped entice people such as Donna Roberson, 47 years old, a disabled Army veteran near Tacoma, Wash., who signed up as an ACN independent business owner in 2011. In an interview, she recalled thinking at the time: “If he’s pushing it, it’s got to be a good company to get into. Yeah, we can make money at this.”

    Ms. Roberson, a single mother of four, said she lost as much as $2,000 on ACN“I feel like it’s a big scam,” she said. “It was costing me more to stay in the company than what I was making.”

    Here are some additional reasons why Trump likely wants his ACN past to disappear:

    • In 2010, Montana’s securities commissioner alleged ACN was an “illegal pyramid scheme” and sought to have it shut down, according to WSJ. State regulators dropped the charge after the company promised to better train its workers.
    • The Journal also laid out how Maryland regulators accused ACN affiliate Xoom Energy of jacking up energy rates for its customers and is seeking at least $1 million in payments for customers.
    • Xoom is also the subject of a class action lawsuit in North Carolina and is accused of making “false and misleading” sales pitches. “The lawsuit includes the text of almost three dozen online complaints alleging similar acts of fraud against ACN and/or Xoom,” National Review reported.
    • A former ACN salesman confessed to a local ABC affiliate in New York that he was unintentionally “robbing people” when he got them to sign up for Xoom Energy.

    In other words, ACN is a mess and ACN is precisely the kind of questionable company a presidential candidate should stay away from, and certainly the type of company a candidate should not have spent years breathlessly endorsing in exchange for $450,000 paychecks.

    Keep that in mind the next time reporters hover around Clinton speech transcripts.