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Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • Breitbart Has A Glenn Beck And Rush Limbaugh Problem: Advertisers Despise Hate

    1,200 Advertisers Have Reportedly Sworn Off The Site

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Recent visitors to Breitbart.com have been inundated with ads for products at the site's official store, like the tasteful "RINO Hunter Jumbo Coffee Cup." But one thing that has been noticeably absent from President Donald Trump’s loyal "alt-right" media hub this year: ads from big-name companies.

    “A recent check of the Breitbart site showed there are few if any ads for large consumer brands,” Fortune recently confirmed. “Most of the advertising appears to consist of ads for diet supplements and conservative newsletters, among other things.”

    Breitbart staffers concede the ad boycott has hurt business. “People inside Breitbart say while the website may in fact be profitable, it is also suffering from a business standpoint with advertising dollars shrinking significantly,” Fox Business reported last month.

    So it’s official: Breitbart now has a Glenn Beck and a Rush Limbaugh problem. Its unapologetically offensive content has driven away hundreds and hundreds of advertisers, according to a tally kept by the group Sleeping Giants. And based on Beck and Limbaugh’s previous boycott struggles, it’s probably safe to predict those advertisers are never coming back.

    To recap: Following Trump’s November victory and Breitbart’s emergence as the center for the hateful "alt-right" movement, an online crowd-sourcing campaign led in part by Sleeping Giants began contacting companies whose products were popping up in ads on Breitbart -- ads surrounded by odious content -- and the site’s equally hateful online community. (One former Breitbart editor called the site’s comments section a “cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”)

    When contacted by progressive activists, companies seemed unaware that their ads were running on Breitbart.

    Why? CNET explained:

    Most online ad placement services use "programmatic advertising," which targets people instead of websites. That's why when you're online shopping for something like shoes, you may see an ad for those shoes across various sites you visit. With programmatic advertising, those shoes seemingly walk in your footsteps around the internet.

    Previously, companies and ad agencies made sure their programmatic ads didn’t appear on porn sites, for instance. But they hadn’t made provisions to keep their ads off race-baiting, homophobic, "alt-right" sites like Breitbart.

    For lots of companies, the decision to ditch Breitbart was apparently an easy one. “We determined that the site violates our hate speech prohibition,” an AppNexus spokesman told The Los Angeles Times.

    Progressive groups that have been involved in the boycott efforts – including Avaaz, MoveOn, Ultraviolet, and SumOfUs – have recently focused their attention on Amazon and Google, two companies that continue to maintain relationships with the conservative site.

    Here’s the bottom line: Breitbart’s online traffic has undeniably surged as the site has ridden the right-wing Trump wave, but that traffic isn’t being monetized. Breitbart’s recent rise in popularity is not only not attracting more advertisers, it’s running concurrent with a mass exodus of advertisers.

    Note that Breitbart recently surpassed ESPN.com in terms of reader traffic. But does anyone think Breitbart, facing a reported 1,200-company ad boycott, is banking more ad revenue that ESPN.com? I certainly don’t. And I’m not alone.

    “[P]eople inside the publication say the divergence between its web traffic and its ad revenues is fairly significant,” according to Fox Business.

    It’s worth noting that Breitbart’s response to the ad boycott has shifted over time. One of the first high-profile advertisers to pull out from Breitbart was Kellogg’s, which announced its exit in November. (Breitbart wasn’t “aligned” with Kellogg’s' values, according to the company.)

    Breitbart quickly swung into action, loudly denouncing the food giant by issuing a declaration of "war” against the “un-American” company and introducing the #DumpKelloggs rallying cry.

    But as hundreds of additional advertisers followed Kellogg’s lead and bolted, it became clear that Breitbart’s initial defiant strategy didn’t work. Today, executives are noticeably mum about the sweeping ad boycott. 

    And the bad news for Breitbart? Once a flood of advertisers decides to leave offensive, right-wing media outlets, those advertisers rarely return.

    Just ask Beck and Limbaugh.

    Beck lost his Fox News show because the cable channel simply couldn’t find advertisers willing to support the wildly offensive host. (Especially after Beck called President Barack Obama a “racist” who "has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.") Fox News found out that having a show like Beck’s that attracted 2 million viewers was great. Having a show with 2 million viewers that couldn’t land advertisers didn’t make sense.

    Limbaugh has also watched as hundreds of radio advertisers fled his program and wrecked his business model. Madison Avenue’s rejection of Limbaugh was sparked by the AM talker’s days-long sexist meltdown over Sandra Fluke in 2012. Unable to land advertisers, Limbaugh was soon demoted in major radio markets such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis, where he was shipped off to weaker, underperforming stations.

    Today, the larger question for Breitbart is, how much does this matter? Because here’s the truth about Breitbart: It behaves more like an "alt-right" think tank, or a super PAC, than a news organization. And like lots of purely partisan conservative entities, Breitbart is privately funded by rich ideologues, with a mission to drive a political agenda, not to publish journalism.

    Robert Mercer has reportedly given Breitbart “at least $10 million.” Mercer is a billionaire hedge fund manager, and he and his family’s foundation (which is headed by his daughter Rebekah) have emerged as key Trump allies who have given millions of dollars to far-right causes in recent years, causes like the Heritage Foundation, Citizens United, the Media Research Center, and the Cato Institute. Note that there's no record of the Mercers doling out millions of dollars to nonpartisan journalism enterprises. They dole out millions to purely partisan, right-wing political operations.

    Like Breitbart.

    In truth, there’s little indication that without rich donors Breitbart could survive in the marketplace as an advertising-driven entity. Like the New York Post and other conservative outlets with failed business models, Breitbart needs the support of deep-pocketed ideologues to stay afloat.

    So for now, Breitbart relies on people like Mercer to pay the bills, while more than a thousand advertisers insist they want nothing to do with the "alt-right" site.

  • Trump's Lies Are No Laughing Matter For The Press

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Appearing at the annual Radio and Television News Correspondents Association dinner in March 2004, just as his reelection campaign was gearing up, President George W. Bush continued the black-tie evening’s tradition and set aside some moments in his address to poke fun at himself.

    The punchline that year: Bush couldn’t find Saddam Hussein’s weapons of the mass destruction; the WMDs that had served as the rationale for launching the invasion of Iraq one year earlier.

    As the lights at the Washington Hilton ballroom dimmed, Bush narrated a “White House Election-Year Album,” and photos flashed on the screen behind him. One slide showed Bush in the Oval Office, searching under a piece of furniture. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere," he told the audience. The slideshow continued with him checking different parts of his office. "Nope, no weapons over there," he said, "Maybe under here."

    The crowd loved it. (Bush can’t find the WMDs!) “Laughter erupted from the crowd of journalists, politicians and their guests then and at other times during Bush’s remarks,” NBC reported.

    Reporters joined Bush in having a good laugh at the acknowledgement that the Republican administration’s premise for a preemptive invasion had been built on WMDs, which still could not be found.

    That was the joke. 

    Even after Democrats objected, insisting it was tasteless to joke about WMDs while U.S. military men and women were dying in Iraq, Beltway journalists backed Bush. “The pictures were funny,” Washington Post news reporter Ceci Connolly announced on Fox News. “I laughed at the photos.”

    Fast-forward to last Friday when White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the new (and robust) U.S. employment numbers, and specifically whether President Donald Trump accepted them as being accurate considering during the campaign he routinely insisted U.S. unemployment figures were rigged and phony. (At one point he suggested the real unemployment rate was 42 percent!) Unable to contain his smile, Spicer responded, “I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly. They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”

    And with that, the press room broke into hearty laughter. Reporters joined Spicer in having a good guffaw at the suggestion that the Republican nominee had lied about unemployment figures during the campaign in an overt effort to undercut voters’ faith in the government, and was now basically conceding he had lied.

    That was the joke. 

    “It’s a pretty good indicator of how much Trump has succeeded in lowering the bar in terms of standards of conduct,” wrote Vox’s Matthew Yglesias.

    While laughing about Trump's mendacity on employment numbers isn't as outwardly egregious as laughing along with Bush's WMD bit, normalizing Trump’s radical agenda -- and especially his penchant for casual lying-- is not funny, nor should it be treated in a lighthearted manner. (Just like laughing about WMDs was a really bad idea for journalists.) Lying about employment figures and propagating the dark theme that the U.S. government constantly lies to citizens, even about non-controversial issues like jobs statistics, is dangerous. And it doesn’t deserve a laugh track.  

    Note that right after the election, The New York Times invited Trump for a meeting with the publisher and then a round-table discussion with some reporters and columnists. This came just days after Trump met with television news executives and loudly berated them for being dishonest. Yet the transcripts of the newspaper event showed laughter broke out repeatedly between Trump and the staffers.

    That seemed like an odd way to treat someone who campaigned on an offensive, anti-media message, and who once mocked a Times reporter with a physical disability during a campaign rally. Then again, that meeting was back in November, and maybe that laughter reflected nervous attempts by Times journalists to mend some fences with the incoming president.

    Today, given Trump’s radical agenda and his off-the-charts attacks on the free press, it’s hard to imagine any circumstances where journalists should be laughing along with Trump or his spokesman. 

    And that was the problem with Friday’s feel-good press briefing outburst. It sent a troubling message, which was, ‘We get that Trump’s a liar, and we get that Spicer lies on his behalf daily. We’re all in on this weird, kabuki theater production together and when Spicer occasionally punctures/acknowledges the performance -- when he concedes the whole premise is built on obvious falsehoods -- it’s actually kind of funny.’

    But here’s the thing: If the press thinks Trump having lied about unemployment numbers is funny, what else will soon be dubbed hilarious? Weeks from now will White House reporters break into laughter if Spicer ever admits Trump has been lying about having Mexico pay for the border wall? Or that Trump lied about the new Republican health care plan covering “everybody”? Or that he lied about voter fraud, being the target of never-ending IRS audits, and about President Barack Obama having wiretapped Trump Tower?

    Here’s the other key point about why the belly laughs were so out of place: Spicer lies all the time. “It's gotten to the point where even Sean Spicer's Wednesday announcement that Donald Trump would not scrap the Easter Egg Roll might prompt a skeptic to wonder, ‘Is he being truthful?’" James Warren recently noted at Poynter.org.

    And this administration lies all the time, and about deadly serious topics, such as health care coverage:

    Meanwhile, keep in mind that the press briefing laughs came amid a bulldozer effort by the Trump White House to undercut the free press in America, in part by locking out journalists from reporting on how the government functions under Trump.

    On the eve of Spicer’s joke about unemployment numbers, word got out that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wasn’t going to allow journalists to travel with him on his trip to Asia this week. It’s an unprecedented move designed to block media access. Despite that new setback, there reporters were on Friday, laughing it up with Spicer and sharing a chuckle about Trump being a congenital liar.

  • Locked-Out Media Watch While Trump Administration Retreats Into Secrecy

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    “We want to ensure at all times, if confirmed, that the secretary of state and the State Department is fully transparent with the public.” - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at his January 11, 2017, confirmation hearing.

    On Tuesday, bureau chiefs for major news organizations held a conference call to discuss the fact that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not going to allow the press to travel with him on his plane during an upcoming trip to Asia. According to Poynter.org, which reported on the call, not allowing reporters on Tillerson’s government plane would be would be “very unusual, if not unprecedented, certainly in recent annals, with substantial access given by recent Secretaries of State, including John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.”

    As Poynter explained, “[T]he logistics of keeping up with [Tillerson] by assembling stringers or hopscotching about on commercials flights makes coverage exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.” According to CNN, a senior official "told reporters Tuesday Tillerson prefers to travel on a smaller plane and 'carries a much smaller footprint.'" Tillerson’s plan to exclude the press from traveling with him overseas represents a stunning State Department policy reversal, while further cementing his image as a secretive cabinet figure who has had virtually no contact with journalists since being sworn in. “The secretary of state has given only a handful of prepared statements to the press and has not taken any questions,” CNN noted.

    That veil of secrecy has quickly emerged as the hallmark for this shadowy administration.

    It’s important to note that while President Trump’s ongoing war on the press has received most of the attention this year as he threatens journalists and restricts their access, there are plenty of indications that the rampant secrecy and disdain for transparency is widespread. “The retreat from the press has taken place administration-wide,” Politico noted.

    There seems to be a collective closing of the gates now underway in terms of the federal government separating itself from journalists.

    Just look at what unfolded on Monday:

    • Tillerson, along with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, held an event with journalists to announce the administration’s latest attempt to restrict travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries. But none of the men responded to press questions about the controversial initiative.
    • Unlike how the administration treated the original travel ban signing, Trump signed the revised travel ban executive order without photographers or reporters present to record the event.
    • When the White House held a background conference call with reporters to discuss the updated travel ban it did not identify officials on the call, which prompted a New York Times reporter to tweet:

    The next day, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell was escorted from a photo-op with Tillerson and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin after trying to ask several questions. The questions were "met with silence."

    All of that constitutes an historic effort by the Trump administration to lock out the press from the government’s official duties and business.

    This, of course, comes after the White House’s radical move to banish several major news outlets from a press “gaggle,” likely because the administration was unhappy with what the organizations were reporting. What followed was a highly unusual, weeklong blackout in terms of televised press briefings from White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

    That drawing of the curtain is part of a larger administration effort to march back transparency. For instance, in recent weeks there’s been a paucity of senior administration officials available for on-the-record interviews. Traditionally, senior officials, including cabinet members, have been made available for in-depth interviews, especially on the Sunday morning shows. But not the Trump team.

    The White House seems to have specifically singled out CNN, repeatedly, and refused to provide officials for interviews there.

    Overall, the administration remains reluctant to engage. Just six weeks into Trump’s term and Sunday morning show producers have been reduced to booking (or not booking) the White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for the weekly programs.

    Those who didn’t decline Sanders might’ve wished they had. In her appearance on ABC’s This Week, when confronted about Trump’s wholly unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama had bugged Trump Tower, Sanders said, “I will let the president speak for himself,” to which host Martha Raddatz responded, “You’re his spokesperson.”

    The next day, Sanders appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and tried to argue that Trump’s fantastic claims about Obama and wiretapping were supported by mainstream news reports. (They’re not.) Watching Sanders’ spectacle of unending misinformation and non sequiturs, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted, “You have to use terms like sadism to describe the WH press office now.”

    Unable to explain or add context, Trump’s press office remains of little use to working journalists and signifies the administration’s sustained retreat from information.

    Perhaps nowhere outside the West Wing is that retreat more apparent than at the State Department, which for the first six weeks of the Trump administration essentially shut off all communication with the public and the press.

    Between January 20 and March 6, there were no State Department press briefings. This, despite the fact the media Q & A’s “have been held on a near-daily basis on weekdays since the 1950s, when John Foster Dulles was secretary of state,” according to the Washington Times.

    The only explanation given for the State Department silence under the Trump team was that they “needed time to get organized.” But note that the Obama administration quickly began daily State Department briefings as soon as Hillary Clinton was sworn in as secretary of state on January 22, 2009.

    Under Trump, the State Department’s chief spokesperson wasn’t even hired until last week. Tillerson himself is still lacking key deputies. “Of the 44 highest-ranking positions at the State Department, the Trump administration has filled one: Tillerson's,” Bloomberg reported last week. (To date, just a handful of ambassadors have been appointed.)

    On Tuesday, the State Department finally held its first press briefing, but reporters suspect future briefings will be drastically scaled back to perhaps just twice a week. That would represent another sweeping break from the department’s tradition of media accessibility.

    And now we get word that Tillerson’s not bringing the press on his plane for his trip to Asia.

    Recall that during his confirmation hearing in January, Tillerson was specifically asked by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) whether his State Department would maintain open and transparent relations with the press, including reporters traveling with him.

    He insisted it would:

    During the hearing, Booker noted that his staff had tallied the number of press interactions Hillary Clinton and John Kerry had had over the years while serving as secretaries of state. The total came to nearly six thousand.

    To date, Tillerson has had almost no interactions. The gates are going down, and the press is being left outside.

    UPDATE: 

    Poynter reported Thursday that “D.C. bureau chiefs from major news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the wire services, Fox News and CNN sent a letter to the State Department earlier this week protesting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's decision to ditch reporters on his upcoming trip to Asia.”

    Their letter, which was printed in full by Poynter, is below:

    Dear Mr. Hammond and Ms. Peterlin,

    We are the Washington bureau chiefs and editors of major print, wire, television and radio news organizations. We are writing to request a meeting with both of you as soon as possible to discuss press access to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and coverage of American foreign policy going forward.

    We were deeply concerned to hear that Secretary Tillerson plans to travel to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo to hold key meetings about some of the most important foreign policy issues for the United States without any traveling press. Not only does this situation leave the public narrative of the meetings up to the Chinese foreign ministry as well as Korea’s and Japan’s, but it gives the American people no window whatsoever into the views and actions of the nation’s leaders. And the offer to help those reporters who want to travel unilaterally is wholly unrealistic, given the commercial flight schedules, visa issues and no guarantee of access once they are there.

    But the issues go beyond just the March 14-19 trip and affect the day-to-day coverage of the nation’s top diplomat and U.S. relations with the rest of the world.

    Please let us know when a small group of us could come by to see if we can work out an arrangement that suits all of us.

    Thank you,

    Wendy Benjaminson
    Acting Washington Bureau Chief
    The Associated Press

    Bryan Boughton
    Fox News Channel
    Washington Bureau Chief

    Elisabeth Bumiller
    Washington Bureau Chief
    New York Times

    Edith Chapin
    Executive Editor
    NPR

    Paul Danahar
    BBC Americas Bureaux Chief

    Sam Feist
    CNN Washington Bureau Chief

    Peter Finn
    National Security Editor
    The Washington Post

    Keith Johnson
    Acting Managing Editor, News
    Foreign Policy

    Weston Kosova
    Washington Bureau Chief
    Bloomberg

    David Lauter
    Washington Bureau Chief
    Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune

    Yolanda Lopez
    Central News Director
    VOA

    David Millikin
    North America bureau chief
    AFP

  • There's An Obvious Reason Why Trump Has Gotten Some "Negative" Coverage

    Hint: His Presidency Is A Mess

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Recent media analyses have argued that President Donald Trump has received lots of negative news coverage since being sworn into office. But before his supporters inevitably seize on the findings to bash journalists as biased and unfair, there’s important context to keep mind: Based on the fawning over Trump’s address to Congress last week, the press is desperate to tell positive Trump stories -- but the administration’s first weeks have created nonstop tumult.

    Media coverage of Trump since the election has been flawed in several important ways, but journalists shouldn’t be blamed for reporting on all the self-inflicted wounds Trump and his White House team have caused, because news coverage doesn’t exist in a vacuum. News coverage revolves around ... news.

    So in that sense, the heavy dose of negative coverage is deserved. And I don’t mean that in a partisan sense (i.e. I disagree with Trump so the press should treat him poorly). I mean that in a journalistic sense: Trump’s presidency is, without qualification, a chaotic mess, so his press coverage ought to reflect that. In this case, “negative” coverage could just be journalists chronicling the confusion Trump has initiated in recent weeks. (Historians and veteran Washington correspondents recently confirmed to Media Matters that Trump’s first month was more “chaotic” than other presidential first months in history.) 

    And here’s what completely punctures the right-wing claim that the Beltway press is somehow out to get Trump: Last week, when the president gave a supposedly “normal” speech to Congress and embraced a more “presidential” tone, the pundit class instantly draped him in praise.

    Rushing past the substance of the speech, which was built on a foundation of exaggerations and obvious falsehoods, the chattering class went ga-ga over Trump. The swooning fawn-fest for the deeply unpopular president was telling because it signaled the pundit class's eagerness to boost and praise Trump -- if only he would give them more chances.

    By wrapping his agenda in radical initiatives, lashing out wildly at his enemies, and generally conducting himself like an adolescent, Trump has provided pundits with scant opportunities to praise him, or to portray him as presidential. The fawning, low-bar coverage of his speech to Congress proved that if given a chance to swoon over Trump, journalists will gladly do so.

    As for the analysis of his negative press coverage to date, it’s not surprising. 

    Writing in The Washington Post, university professors Stephen Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter – along with Roland Schatz, president of the media research firm Media Tenor – recently explained that based on Media Tenor’s analysis of a few hundred stories on Trump from NBC Nightly NewsCBS Evening News, and Fox News’ Special Report, the new president has received far more negative coverage than positive coverage

    Just 3 percent of the reports on NBC and CBS were deemed to be positive, while 43 percent were negative and 54 percent were neutral. (Note: On Fox’s Special Report, 12 percent of the Trump reports were positive, compared to 25 percent negative and 63 percent neutral.)

    Meanwhile, the conservative Washington Times reported on a study by the pro-Republican Newsbusters, which found that the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newscasts had produced overwhelmingly negative (88 percent) coverage for Trump.

    The Newsbusters study essentially proves my point. For example, the report criticizes CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley for beginning the February 6 newscast by announcing, “It has been a busy day for presidential statements divorced from reality.”

    Left unsaid by Newsbusters was the fact that Pelley’s “divorced from reality” comment came while he was reporting on a statement Trump made that was in fact divorced from reality -- namely, his completely baseless claim on February 6 that the media intentionally covers up and fails to report on terror attacks.

    Nonetheless, I have little doubt Trump has received some “negative” network news coverage this year. Conservatives would have you think that's due to media bias – that the press is just being mean to Trump.

    From National Review:

    Normally, the election of a new president is a moment when everyone takes a deep breath, partisan passions subside a little, and the incoming president enjoys at least a few weeks to implement his stated promises. In this case, no such luck.

    Even the authors writing in the Post suggested that an explanation for what they called the “unusual” amount of harsh coverage could be Trump's frequent attacks on the news media as an “enemy” of the people.

    But what they glossed over when trying to explain Trump’s “unusual” coverage was Trump’s own extremist behavior. The authors stressed that President Barack Obama “received much less negative coverage than Trump has received at the start of their respective presidencies.”

    But here’s the thing. During his first weeks in office, Obama did not issue an unconstitutional travel ban for seven Muslim-majority countries, fire the acting attorney general, assail a department store chain after it stopped selling his daughter’s products, insist millions of illegal votes were cast in the general election, obsess over the size of his inauguration crowd, conduct foreign policy via tweets, give a political operative a full seat on the National Security Council, accuse his Oval Office predecessor of wiretapping him, fire his national security adviser after he lied about contacts with Russian officials, sign an executive order to build a $20 billion wall along the Mexican border, spend most of his weekends at a Florida resort, or hold one of the most bizarre, off-the-wall press conferences in White House history.  

    You get the idea.

  • Right-Wing Media Scramble To Recast Obama As Trump-Era Villain

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    In science, nature abhors a vacuum. On cable news, Fox News abhors not having a Democratic villain. So the network is trying to bring back former President Barack Obama for the starring role.

    Desperately searching for someone with a high profile to blame for the generally chaotic start of Trump’s controversy-filled administration, the conservative media are refitting the former Democratic president, who has kept a low profile since exiting the White House, as an all-powerful gremlin who’s to blame for Trump’s laundry list of political woes.

    And now, of course, Trump has seized on the right-wing media theme. Brandishing little more than a right-wing radio rant that was typed up by Breitbart.com, Trump over the weekend made the wholly unsubstantiated, and nonsensical, claim that Obama ordered a wiretap at Trump Tower. Trump then demanded that Congress investigate the alleged abuses. (Surprise! Trump’s right-wing media allies support the call.)

    The burgeoning blame game started last month with allegations that Obama was responsible for the big crowds protesting Trump’s presidency. (He wasn’t.) Since then, the allegations have widened, and now Obama is viewed as some sort of all-powerful troll who’s mysteriously capable of disrupting all factions of the Trump administration.

    But let’s take a step back and understand what’s also going on: The right-wing media cannot survive without high-profile liberal villains who can be used to rile up the Republican masses. For the previous eight years, Obama was portrayed as an almost demonic figure bent on destroying the American way of life. And for the last two years of Obama’s term, Hillary Clinton received co-star status as America’s Villain on Fox News and in other right-wing media, which denounced her every move, real or imagined, as an outrage.

    Being outraged, and especially being outraged about made-up things, has been a signature of the far-right press for years. It certainly defined the Obama era, blossoming into Fox News' entire programming blueprint. Fox News posted huge profits each year by overreacting to imagined Obama slights. (Remember when Obama disrespected the Oval Office by putting his feet on his desk, watched too much sports television, was too mean to Republicans, and ordered too fancy a mustard on a burger?) 

    But with Republicans now controlling the White House, the Senate, the House, and possibly soon the Supreme Court, it’s getting hard for Republicans to focus on a single villain. (Can Trump’s failures really all be blamed on the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi?)

    So Fox News and friends have for weeks been trying to drag Obama out of retirement for the top role of Democratic scoundrel. Even though Obama has remained mostly silent since Trump was sworn in, he has been denounced as a devilish figure and used to rile the GOP base.

    Today, from Fox News to the National Enquirer, from Alex Jones to Rush Limbaugh, the rallying cry is emerging: Barack Obama is an omnipotent force who’s obstructing and dooming Trump’s agenda.

    Here was New York Post writer Paul Sperry frantically sounding the Obama alarms on Alex Jones’ conspiratorial radio show, according to a transcript from the Austin American-Statesman (emphasis added):

    Forget about Hillary, Hillary’s gone. His main concern right now is Obama. I mean the guy’s set up a bunker down the street from the White House..He’s got a mansion. He’s got an office. OFA, the Obama Foundation he’s setting up. He’s got his own chief of staff, press secretary. He’s setting up his own shadow White House, just within two miles of the White House .. This is something on the order of a civil war here.

    Jones was a believer: “And I agree with you, at a gut level I am more concerned about this than anything I’ve seen in 20 years on air.”

    The right-wing Daily Mail has also been issuing the warning, insisting that “Obama's goal is to oust Trump from the presidency either by forcing his resignation or through his impeachment” and that Obama’s new Washington, D.C., home was being turned “into the nerve center of the mounting insurgency against his successor.”

    Politically, why the urgent need from the Trump loyalists in the press to bring back Obama, and his allegedly conniving cohorts, just weeks after he left office? Because there has to be an explanation for why Trump and his administration have suffered such a chaotic first few weeks, why they have sparked so many controversies and experienced so many early losses. There must be an explanation for why Obamacare hasn’t been repealed, why the White House travel ban was overturned by the courts, and why Trump is so deeply unpopular.

    Yes, the White House has declared war on the press, but that blame game doesn’t really address Trump’s endless political setbacks. So the default explanation has become “It’s Obama’s fault.” That, and his all-powerful “shadow government.” (He’s kinda like George Soros, but with Secret Service protection.)

    By elevating the supposed looming, off-stage threat of Obama, the right-wing media also allow Trump to play the perpetual victim.

    What’s funny is that while Obama has remained mostly mum about his successor, it was former Republican president George W. Bush who made headlines last week when he seemed to voice concerns about Trump’s presidency.

    From The New York Times:

    Former President George W. Bush implicitly criticized President Trump on Monday, taking issue with his approach to immigration and the news media, and suggested that any ties between the new president’s team and Russia should be investigated.

    Today, there’s no evidence to support right-wing media claims that Obama has turned his home into an anti-Trump “nerve center,” or that he’s marshaling the forces of his “shadow government” to overthrow the administration. But there is plenty of proof that Obama’s living rent-free inside the heads of Fox News pundits.

  • The Swooning Over Trump Speech Proved GOP Media Bashing Works

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    What an amazing mood swing the Beltway press corps seemed to experience between last Friday and Tuesday night. Veering from expressing shock at the White House decision to exclude several major news organizations from a press “gaggle” with the administration’s press secretary on Friday to then offering up hosannas for President Donald Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, much of the pundit class appeared to have moved on from last week’s shunning.

    Focusing on theater criticism instead of policy analysis, the pundit class seemed to be engaged in a heated agreement that Trump had hit a “presidential” home run with his pedestrian and factually inaccurate address. According to a Media Matters count, cable news discussions of Trump's address from directly following the speech until 11 a.m. the next day included more than 300 references to the optics of his speech -- including mentions of a “pivot," "presidential," "reset," and "tone." (Even the White House was reportedly surprised at how fervently the press praised the speech.)

    The runaway falsehoods and craven lies at the heart of Trump’s address didn’t seem to matter for members of the gushing press corps, whose performance was succinctly captured by this next-day headline from Raw Story: “‘Grading On A Curve’: Morning Joe Rates Trump ‘Almost Normal’ Because He Didn’t Threaten To Crush Democracy.”

    What explained the media’s over-the-top praise for Trump’s ordinary speech?

    “Because it’s in their nature, and the nature of the form, to get caught up in the moment -- and to elevate perception over reality,” suggested Will Oremus at Slate.

    But I think there’s more to it than that. You have to take into account Trump’s ongoing war on the press and his daily denunciations of journalism to understand the media’s submissive behavior.

    Observe what was noticeably absent from Trump’s speech to Congress. “He avoided any criticism of the media, a hobby horse he has ridden hard over his first weeks in office,” Politico pointed out.

    Indeed, Trump’s defining criticism was quietly set aside for the night. The result? The press corps that Trump claims to hate so much rallied to his cause and elevated him to new heights.

    Mission accomplished.

    We’re seeing something akin to a Stockholm syndrome situation unfold: Trump doesn’t viciously attack the press in public, so the press sings his praises. 

    Recall the warning from Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page director for The Wall Street Journal, in the wake of the “gaggle” banning last week: “This is an attempt to bully the press by using access as a weapon to manipulate coverage.”

    Guess what? The bullying worked.

    It’s hard to imagine that without the backdrop of Trump’s long-running war on the press, the Beltway media would have swooned so aggressively over the president’s mundane speech.

    It was impossible to watch the full-on Beltway media gushing and not think that the administration’s daily, unprecedented and weirdly personal attacks on the “dishonest media” had paid off.

    It seems increasingly clear that instead of the media attacks damaging Trump’s treatment by the press, the bitter jabs might actually improve the president’s coverage. Having deeply stung the press corps, he has left journalists searching for some kind of detente.

    Of course, they’re never going to get one. Despite Tuesday night’s respite, Trump will unquestionably return to singling out journalists and news organizations for derision and labeling their hard work “fake news.”

    But with his speech, Trump provided a window for pundits to unabashedly praise him for doing the minimal. And they did not waste that rare opportunity.

    Slate’s Will Oremus wrote of CNN’s post-speech coverage (emphasis added):

    The cable news network that Trump has cast as the “enemy of the American people” was back to its old self for one night: self-consciously nonpartisan, obsessed with optics, largely unconcerned with facts, in thrall to conventional wisdom, and keenly attuned to the way the political wind was blowing.

    Meanwhile, looking back over the several days leading up to Tuesday’s address, it’s easy to suspect that the White House set the media up by escalating its rhetorical war with the press.

    “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 last Friday. That same day, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, the BBC, and others were deliberately excluded from a White House briefing “gaggle.” (He later labeled the New York Times “evil” in an interview with sycophantic Breitbart.com reporter Matthew Boyle.) 

    Those theatrics may have all been designed to push the press back on its heels. That way journalists would be delighted and relieved when Trump took the supposed high road in his speech to Congress.

    “After a year of beating them, berating them, having supporters yell and threaten them, calling them fake news, calling them an enemy of the people, calling the NYT ‘evil,’ shutting them out of events, he gave them a night of perfectly normal-sounding politician speak,” wrote blogger Eric Schmeltzer. The Trump speech represented a “return to the days of when they could just bask in the afterglow of a politician speaking, and do their usual punditry.”

    Pundits relished that opportunity and thanked Trump for it. They thanked the guy who has targeted journalists as a menace to society.

    So yes, press bashing works. Trump just proved it.

  • Trump Has Declared War On The Press. Media Should Come To The Battlefield

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    “We have a respect for the press when it comes to the government, ... that is something that you can’t ban an entity from. Conservative, liberal or otherwise, I think that's what makes a democracy a democracy, versus a dictatorship.” Sean Spicer, December 16, 2016

    The White House’s petulant decision on Friday to ban several major news outlets from a media gaggle with press secretary Sean Spicer ignited justifiable outrage among journalists. And the outcry was noticeably bipartisan. “This is an attempt to bully the press by using access as a weapon to manipulate coverage,” warned Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page director for The Wall Street Journal.

    Now that outrage needs to be institutionalized. It needs to be backed up by the power and prestige of the country’s largest news organizations. In other words, it’s time for institutions to take collective action and fight back.

    Here’s what Media Matters stressed three months ago in the wake of Trump’s 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."

    Since then, the Trump team has repeatedly pushed the press around. (Banning outlets from the gaggle on Friday was just the latest and most high profile example.) And time and again, the Trump team has gotten away with it.

    The kerfuffle wasn’t just a random power play designed to embarrass reporters from The New York Times, BuzzFeed, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, the BBC, and other outlets that were shut out. It was part of a larger, well-orchestrated, and incremental campaign to cut off journalists from reporting on the government. (Note also that there have been no State Department press briefings since Trump was inaugurated.)

    All of this while the president forcefully moves to demonize America’s free and open press. “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 last week. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. We’re going to do something about it.”

    Yet even in the wake of last week’s stunning Trump attacks and the banning of outlets from a Spicer gaggle, we’re still not seeing the level of forceful group action from news organizations that the situation requires. (They took collective action to register complaints with the Obama White House.)

    To their credit, reporters from The Associated Press, Time, and USA Today decided to spontaneously boycott Friday's briefing. But while several outlets – including The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and McClatchy newspapers – announced that they would not attend any future briefings where other outlets are banned, others dropped the ball. On Friday night, ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News all covered the White House’s attempt to ban certain news outlets from meeting with Spicer that day, but as Media Matters noted, none of them gave any indication that their networks would refuse to participate in future briefings that are similarly restrictive. (More than 320,000 people have signed Media Matters' petition urging members of the White House press corps to collectively stand up against Trump’s media blacklisting.)

    In addition to refusing to attend restricted briefings, news organizations have several ways to push back as a group. They should:  

    • Temporarily disinvite White House surrogates. Just as there is no law that requires the administration to have open briefings, there’s no law that says news outlets have to invite White House surrogates every week to their Sunday political news shows. (The Trump administration purposefully refuses to provide surrogates to certain CNN programs.) So the next time the White House tries to ban news outlets from getting access, all of the television players should temporarily disinvite administration surrogates as a way to register their deep concern.
    • Loudly demand that Spicer be fired. I understand that whoever replaces Spicer might engage in similar behavior. But with his recent attempt to bar major news outlets from a briefing (in addition to his weeks of pushing falsehoods from the podium), Spicer proved himself to be an unethical and untrustworthy spokesperson. To date, however, I haven't heard loud demands from major news organization or associations that Spicer, the point person for the White House’s war on the press, be fired. (Note: Axios reports today that in a highly unusual move, Spicer “personally picked up the phone and connected outside officials with reporters to try to discredit a New York Times article about Trump campaign aides' contact with Russia, then remained on the line for the brief conversations.”)
    • Boycott press events hosted by Spicer. That was the suggestion made by veteran journalist Kurt Andersen: 
    • Send the interns. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has been advocating this approach for weeks: De-emphasize the significance of White House press productions by sending interns to cover the events while senior reporters are out in the field tracking down better leads. It “means our major news organizations don’t have to cooperate with this," Rosen advised. "They don’t have to lend talent or prestige to it. They don’t have to be props.”
    • Stop televising so much of the White House press briefings live every day. The press briefings, in particular, provide a forum for administration misinformation. Why reward the White House with free daily airtime while it’s simultaneously waging a war on the press, and specifically while it's trying to deny access to certain news outlets?

    The Trump White House bars CNN from a press “gaggle,” so CNN punishes the White House by airing its press briefings live most days?  

    With a payoff like that, why would the White House ever stop its dangerous and destructive behavior?

  • Enough Already: The NY Times Needs To Stop Coddling Trump Voters

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The New York Times sure picked a strange moment to start writing up tickets for allegedly rude political behavior this year. And the paper picked an odd target when it recently suggested that by so boisterously and passionately pushing back against President Donald Trump’s radical White House agenda, Democrats and liberals were being too mean, that they were offending voters who support the president.

    According to the Times, “moderate conservatives” and “seemingly persuadable conservatives” (whoever they are) are turned off by Trump’s critics.

    The message apparently being, if liberals and Democrats would be nicer in their critiques of Trump, if they could dial back the “righteous indignation” while the president tries to ban travelers from targeted nations from entering America, sets out to deport millions of people living here, and declares the news media to be the “enemy” of the people, they’d be more successful in slowing Trump’s agenda.

    If the left could drop the “moral smugness” and “name-calling,” as one Times reporter characterized the traits on Twitter, it could win over more converts. 

    The Times, however, made no suggestion that Trump supporters change their ways. In fact, the newspaper quoted one fan insisting that Democrats are "scarier to me than these Islamic terrorists. I feel absolutely disgusted with them and their antics.”

    So in a piece chastising Democrats for being too mean, the Times quoted a Trump supporter who equated Democrats with Islamic terrorists. And yes, that same piece questioning the tone of Democratic activists quoted zero Democratic activists.

    So much for balance.

    By the way, here are a couple of images that could have provided context for a story about Trump supporters supposedly having their feelings hurt in the current political climate:

    [The Daily Beast]

    Ever since Election Day, when lots of news executives decided they hadn’t paid enough attention to Trump supporters and had therefore “missed” his upset victory, The New York Times has stood out for its desire to relentlessly focus on Trump’s most ardent supporters. Showering them with constant attention, the daily has gone out of its way to give these supporters a platform to express their (mostly) unyielding support for the most unpopular new president in American history.

    Usually traveling to small, mostly-white towns inside pro-Trump states (Niles, MI; Monticello, IA;  Covington, LA; et cetera), the Times again and again types up hosannas from Trump fans and presents their praise and vociferous defense of the president as news.

    The whole genre reads like a weird brand of Trump damage control, courtesy of The New York Times.

    Trump’s many stumbles during the transition? His supporters don’t care. His stumbles during his first week in office? His supporters don’t care. The news that his victory was possibly aided by Russian hacking? His supporters don’t care. American cities erupt in anti-Trump protests? His supporters don’t care. Trump critics denounce his travel ban as unlawful? His supporters don’t care.

    That’s not all. The Times has also published a long profile on women who voted for Trump (explaining their support “in their own words”), a piece on Trump fans who traveled to the inauguration, and an adoring profile of a Trump fan who lied about Hillary Clinton during the campaign and profited from his fake news business. (The Times was especially enamored with what it called a fake news “masterpiece” about how the Clinton campaign stocked an Ohio warehouse with fraudulent votes.)

    There’s no question that the White House’s cornucopia of missteps and botched initiatives has provided journalists with plenty to report on. That, in turn, generates negative press coverage in places like the Times, which has certainly provided critical reporting and analysis regarding the new administration.

    By contrast, the Trump voter beat inside the newsroom seems to provide a respite from all of that bad-news-for-Trump coverage. These soft profiles seem to be a way for the supposedly liberal and “biased” Times to signal to conservatives that it’s willing to present their best side too.

    For the record, it’s perfectly appropriate for journalists to regularly take the temperature from all corners of the American political spectrum, and that certainly includes Trump supporters.

    And obviously, the Times isn’t the only news outlet that’s been spotlighting Trump supporters since the elections. Lots of journalists have showered attention on them in hopes of providing insight into Trump’s unexpected victory and what it means moving forward.

    But the Times does seem to be singular in its pursuit, having long ago sprinted past the role of providing insight into Trump supporters and since settled into the task of coddling them and giving them a safe space to detail their admiration of a relentless and purposeful liar.

    So the question persists: What exactly is the purpose of this exercise where the Times sends reporters to states that voted for Trump to interview voters who still really like Trump?

    Note that in the process of getting constant updates from Trump fans, the Times often lets them push lots of unfounded allegations and wild conspiratorial claims with little or no pushback. That’s bad journalism, as one Toronto Star reporter recently noted on Twitter.

    Trump voter in Ohio: “I’m tired of [immigrants] being here illegally and cutthroating the rest of us.”

    That claim is false.

    Trump voter in Iowa: “My view is [Obama] purposely got into the presidency so he could ruin America.”

    That claim is absurd.

    Trump voter in Georgia: “But there are allegations about killing people who get in [Hillary Clinton’s] way — Vince Foster, people like that.”

    That claim is also just completely divorced from reality.

    Here’s what’s especially odd about the Times’ feel-good coverage of Trump supporters: Back in August, the newspaper posted an unvarnished compilation video of Trump supporters at his campaign rallies as they wallowed in racist, sexist and anti-Muslim rhetoric. (“Fuck those dirty beaners.” Fuck political correctness.” “Fuck you, Hillary.” “Kill her!”)

    In that piece, the Times held up an unfiltered lens and revealed Trump supporters in their own words, and it wasn’t pretty. Today, though, that unpleasantness has been politely scrubbed from view. In its chronic coverage of Trump devotees since the election, the paper makes little mention of the dark cultural forces that may be propelling the president’s biggest fans. Instead, they’re simply presented as hardworking Americans in search of a new voice in Washington, D.C. (“I truly believe he cares about our country and wants to help everyone.”)

    Add it up and it’s just wave after wave of interviews with worshipful Trump voters, while the subject of their adultation rewrites all the record books by becoming the least popular new president in modern American history.

    It’s a very weird disconnect the Times is pushing.

  • CPAC, Simon & Schuster Learn The Same Old Lesson: Breitbart Is A Sewer

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    With its former chief, Steve Bannon, now wielding power inside the Trump White House, Breitbart in recent days has been collecting a string of symbolic Beltway trophies.

    Last week, a reporter for the far-right site was seated in the front row, alongside Reuters and The Associated Press, for the White House press briefing with President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Earlier this month, Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos bragged that he’d be attending a White House press briefing, although he never showed up.

    Bill Maher, host of HBO’s Real Time, invited Yiannopoulos on as a guest last Friday, and the two men “got along famously,” according to The Washington Post. That’s the same Yiannopoulos who has called transgender people “mentally ill” and “retarded,” announced that “there is only one place for lesbians: porn,” and claimed that “feminism is a bowel cancer.”

    Previously banned from Twitter for inciting a harassment campaign targeting black actress Leslie Jones, Yiannopoulos found a safe haven on Maher’s show. “There was little conflict or cross-examination,” noted The New York Times.

    The following day, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) jumped on Yiannopoulos’ hate rhetoric bandwagon, inviting him to speak at the annual gathering. The move seemed to further mainstream the “alt-right” movement and its white nationalist fan base within the Republican Party.

    Meanwhile, scroll back to last December, when publishing giant Simon & Schuster signed off on a Yiannopoulos book deal reportedly worth $250,000. (“They offered me a wheelbarrow full of money,” the Breitbart editor bragged.)

    The deal was widely denounced in the publishing world. “He’s a clickbait grifter who has made a name for himself spewing hate speech,” wrote Adam Morgan, editor-in-chief of the Chicago Review of Books.

    But Simon & Schuster stood proudly by its new author and defended the generous book contract, even suggesting it was taking a noble stand in the name of free speech.

    That was before tapes resurfaced this weekend “in which Yiannopoulos appears to defend pedophilia.”

    Today, as controversy swarms around Yiannopoulos over his shocking comments, who now has the biggest regrets about reaching out to the Breitbart editor in an effort to normalize his dangerous crusade? Simon & Schuster, CPAC, or Maher?

    All of them are learning the same valuable lessons: 1) Intellectually, Breitbart is an infested sewer, and it always has been. And 2) Lots of journalists and mainstream organizations that try to embrace or legitimize the site and its rancid rhetoric inevitably come to regret it.

    They regret being associated with such purposefully offensive people and likely wish somebody had stopped them before they tried to brandish the Breitbart name for their own short-terms gains. Specifically, the regrets now revolve around “alt-right” mob leader Yiannopoulos, who appeals to rotten white nationalism.

    As Media Matters noted in the wake of the latest Milo comments, the obvious warning signs surrounding the Breitbart editor have been flashing for a very long time

    It’s not a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the “alt-right” white nationalist movement Breitbart has supported that Yiannopoulos repeatedly frames targeted harassment campaigns of transgender individuals, black women, and undocumented students as some disgusting testament to his own conveniently warped understanding of the First Amendment.

    In terms of regrets, it’s now likely a toss-up between Simon & Schuster and CPAC, but I’m guessing it’s the leaders of the annual conservative conference who, at least privately, are most embarrassed by their harebrained idea to invite Yiannopoulos to be a featured speaker. The move instantly set off criticism from within the conservative movement as journalists expressed dismay at the idea of elevating a bully to the role of a public intellectual.

    Then, in the wake of the CPAC invite, when a conservative-run Twitter account distributed clips of the Yiannopoulos pedophilia comments, the criticism erupted into a deafening uproar of condemnation for the conservative organization, much of it voiced by conservatives themselves.   

    For its misguided attempts to normalize targeted bullying and to try to feed off the “alt-right” harassment movement for political and commercial gains, CPAC, at least temporarily, became synonymous with an apparent defense of pedophilia. (The leadership later pulled the invite.)

    Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster looks equally foolish for allowing its conservative imprint, Threshold Edition, to embrace Yiannopoulos in hopes of cashing in on his hate rhetoric. (Over the weekend, the publisher canceled the book deal.) Keep in mind that the Breitbart editor’s ugly history was hiding in plain sight prior to the six-figure book deal. Meaning, people in positions of power should have known better.

    From last December:

    On Monday night, pop right-wing agitator Milo Yiannopoulos, who lost his Twitter access earlier this year after one too many online insults against women and minorities, was on the campus of Miami University in Ohio, scheduled to talk about “PIZZAGATE: The deep Dish on Liberalism and Pedophilia.” Half an hour before the speech, he abruptly changed his topic to “On Stabby Muslims, Campus Censors and Daddy’s Transition.”

    That’s who Simon & Schuster chose to publish. That’s who Maher invited on his HBO program for a televised Friday night “bromance.” That’s who the American Conservative Union decided to elevate as a new face of GOP politics in America at CPAC.

    The good news is that a lot of corporations don’t want their brands anywhere near Breitbart or Yiannopoulos.

    As BuzzFeed recently reported, Omnicom, one of the world’s largest ad-buying agencies, “has instructed its staff to pull advertising from pro-Trump website Breitbart on behalf of its biggest clients.” One internal Omicom email referred to Breitbart’s content as being “pretty unpalatable.”

    That’s a good rule of thumb.

  • Michael Flynn Scandal Shatters GOP Dream Of Protecting Trump In “Alternative Fact” Cocoon

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    With the White House facing perhaps the most serious political crisis of its young life, Kellyanne Conway was dispatched on Tuesday to spin as best she could the sudden forced resignation of President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

    But the effort didn’t go well because Conway wasn’t really able to address even the most basic questions surrounding the Flynn controversy. And that inability came five days after The Washington Post first reported that Flynn "privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials," including past statements by Vice President Mike Pence, and possibly in violation of U.S. law. 

    On Monday came additional newspaper revelations that likely fueled Flynn’s ordered departure: The Department of Justice had warned the White House in January that Flynn may have exposed himself to Russian blackmailers because he misled the administration about the content of previous phone calls with Russia. Additionally, Army officials were investigating whether Flynn received payments from the Russian military when he appeared at a Moscow gala in 2015 and sat at the head table with Russian President Vladamir Putin. (The Department of Defense considers the receipt of payments from foreign governments by retired military officials without congressional consent a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Emoluments Clause.)

    And yet there was Conway appearing on the Today show and unable to address simple inquiries about Flynn’s behavior and why Trump stood by him when White House officials knew weeks earlier about discrepancies in Flynn’s Russia story.

    “That makes no sense,” Today show co-host Matt Lauer told Conway as he pressed her about the still-unraveling scandal.

    Conway’s glaring, televised failure wasn’t just a case of a presidential aide getting momentarily stumped. It’s part of a bubble-like culture inside a White House that desperately wants to operate within its own reality. It’s the same White House team that has been trying to shield Trump from having to face tough press questions about the Flynn controversy.

    Trump's team is so busy building its own parallel universe that it doesn’t know how to adjust when the front doors are swung open and officials have to venture out into the real world. That's especially true when they have to venture out into the reality of daily news, like Conway did when she appeared on the Today show.

    Led by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, as well as Conway and senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who lied and obfuscated his way through his recent Sunday morning talk show appearances, the Trump administration appears dedicated to the cause of unapologetic misinformation in a way we’ve never before seen in American politics.

    Officials are making a determined effort to abide by “alternative facts” while aggressively gaslighting the press and the public on myriad topics. It’s a campaign to withdraw from the fact-based world and instead rely on increasingly irresponsible right-wing media sources to protect and boost the president. 

    And sure enough, across the far-right media world where fake news percolates daily, players did their best to present a palatable version of the Flynn scandal. Before It’s News claimed of the resignation, “Globalists' Fake News Claims First Scalp,” while TruthFeed called it “sad” because Flynn “is a good man.” Online, neo-Nazis railed against “the Jews” for causing Flynn’s demise.

    The spin was laid on so thick that even the conservative site RedState mocked the absurd Flynn puffery offered by Trump’s alt-right media “Fanboi” Mike Cernovich. (He excitedly described Flynn’s resignation as an elaborate “coup.")

    Trump himself did his best on Twitter today, lashing out at television news for pushing “conspiracy theories and blind hatred” about him while insisting that The New York Times and The Washington Post were publishing illegal leaks. (In his screed against MSNBC and CNN he also added that lapdog morning show Fox & Friends "is great!") 

    Presidents from both parties have always enjoyed partisan cheerleaders in the press who will defend an administration from attacks and enthusiastically support its agenda. But what the Trump team is trying to assemble is something else entirely. It’s trying to build its own self-sustaining, hermetically sealed information bubble so that Trump, his aides, and his supporters don’t have to acknowledge everyday facts.

    The conservative movement in the last year has forcefully shifted gears, accelerating its longtime goal of counterbalancing what it claims to be the liberal media by striving to replace the news media with its own pleasing version of reality.

    In other words, the Trump team isn’t simply trying to raise doubts about the mainstream media; it’s trying to gut and replace the Fourth Estate. It wants to create a media environment where it can be immune to mainstream reporting and sustain itself -- and exist off of --"alternative facts. "

    Look at how the White House press briefings have dramatically changed this year in order to make room for Trump loyalists -- loyalists who play a key role in the administration’s push to undercut legitimate news outlets.

    The White House strategy of media avoidance isn’t new. “Trump raised doubt about his willingness to face difficult questions when he didn't hold a news conference until Jan. 11, weeks after his election as president,” The Associated Press reported this week.

    But what the Trump White House is learning this month is that loyalists and media sycophants have their limits. And those limits come in the form of reality, like Flynn being caught lying about his previous contacts with the Russian ambassador, contacts that reportedly date back to last year’s campaign. (Why would a top Trump surrogate be in contact with Russia’s ambassador during a U.S. election cycle where Russia was attempting to tilt the scales in Trump's favor?)

    In the end, the White House’s cat-and-mouse game with the press didn’t work because the facts of the Flynn crisis overcame the administration’s attempts to ignore or wish away the story.

    Today, the Trump team is left with a controversy that it still can’t explain away. And neither pushing fake news nor walling Trump off from reality will fix that.