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James Carville

Author ››› James Carville
  • Birtherism: Trump’s Original Sin And The Media’s Latest One

    Blog ››› ››› JAMES CARVILLE

    Next time you watch the news, do me a favor. Take a look at the reporters’ arms. Do they seem tired to you? Overworked? They have to be a little sore at least. Such is the vigor with which the media have been patting themselves on the back lately.

    After a full year of the Trump steamroller -- in which a honey-baked ham with authoritarian inclinations has managed to blow past any serious questioning of his policies or candidacy -- the media apparently feel that they’re now doing their jobs.

    You could see it a few weeks back in the breathless praise for MSNBC's Chris Matthews when he interrogated Trump on abortion; or in the hype around the New York Times interview that nailed down Trump’s Strangelovian approach to nuclear weapons; or even in Trump’s recent pivot toward a more “presidential” tone. Among reporters and critics that I know, there’s a growing sentiment that Trump is changing his ways because they, the press, are taking him seriously now. They’re handling Trump not based on the job he has (obnoxious reality star) but on the job he wants (president or, perhaps, generalissimo).

    Call me crazy, but I’m not totally buying this notion. I think it’s a crock. The media haven’t “done their job” with regard to Trump, and the reason why is very simple: The press have largely ignored the issue that made him a political phenomenon in the first place.

    The media have overlooked Trump’s birtherism.

    I’m a Catholic. I’ve seen enough baptismal water spilled to fill William Taft’s bathtub ten times over. But it doesn’t take a Catholic like me to understand the original sin of the Trump candidacy. His first act on the political stage was to declare himself the head of the birther movement. For Trump, the year 2011 began with the BIG NEWS that he had rejected Lindsay Lohan for Celebrity Apprentice, but by April, his one-man show to paint Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan had become the talk of the country. Five years later, Trump is nearing the Republican nomination for president.

    In many ways, birtherism is the thing that launched Trump's campaign. But as he nears the big prize in Cleveland, Trump has refused disavow his conspiracy theory. In July, when Anderson Cooper pressed Trump on whether President Obama was, in fact, born in the United States, Trump’s response was, “I really don’t know.”

    I’m taxing my mind to find a historical comparison here, to put this in context. I suppose Trump’s birtherism is the intellectual equivalent of the flat-earth theory; both are fully contradicted by the evidence. But then again, there is a difference between the two, and the difference is this: If a presidential candidate insisted that the USS Theodore Roosevelt would fall off the edge of the map after sailing past Catalina, Wolf Blitzer would probably ask him about it.  

    It’s been nine months since Cooper pressed Trump on the issue of whether he thinks the president is an American -- almost enough time, as Trump might put it, to carry a baby to term in Kenya and secretly transport him to Hawaii -- and still, no one has gotten an answer. In fact, most have stopped asking. It’s now known among reporters that Obama’s birthplace is a strictly verboten topic for Trump. If you bring up the subject, as Chris Matthews did in December, Trump looks at you with a glare I assume he otherwise reserves for undocumented immigrants and say, “I don’t talk about that anymore.”

    Since July, there have been 12 debates, six televised forums, and enough cable interviews to combust a DVR, but the only “birther” issue extensively covered in the press has involved whether Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary Flames territory. Most reporters don't seem to want to piss off the The Donald and risk losing their access.

    Look, I understand that there’s plenty of craziness to investigate in our politics. Cruz believes that global warming is a hoax. Ben Carson claimed that the Biblical Joseph built the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Heck, once upon a time, George W. Bush famously thought the jury was out on evolution.

    But Trump’s birtherism is far, far more important -- for two reasons:

    First, in my experience, when a politician says he doesn’t talk about an issue, that’s precisely the issue you should ask him about.

    Second, there’s another difference between being birther and flat-earther. It’s possible to believe the Earth is flat and not be a bigot, but it’s impossible to be a birther and not be one.

    It’s no surprise Trump’s campaign has been a parade of racism after his foray into birtherism -- a border wall, a ban on Muslim immigration, and the failure to denounce the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Bush’s creationism and Carson’s historical idiocy, Trump’s birtherism can’t be written off as a minor policy quirk. It’s less of a bug than a feature. Trump, by his own admission, sees the controversy over Obama’s birthplace as foundational to his brand and instructive to how he approaches politics. When ABC asked him about his aggressive birtherism in 2013, he said, "I don't think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular... I do think I know what I'm doing.”

    I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.

    With birtherism, Trump discovered a sad truth about modern American media: Bigotry gets you attention. And long as you bring viewers, readers, and clicks, the fourth estate will let you get away with that bigotry.

    * * *

    Long before Donald Trump, there was another demagogue, Huey Long, who made a run for the White House. Long was fictionalized and immortalized as the character Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All The King’s Men, in which Warren wrote, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”

    So, too, was Trump’s political career.

    The press should get their hands off their backs and ask him about it.

  • A Modest Proposal On Guns For Conservatives

    Blog ››› ››› JAMES CARVILLE

    With the President's announcement today that he will take sensible executive action to strengthen background checks for purchasing guns, among other common sense measures, I can hardly wait to turn my dial to hear El Rushbo and friends' reactions. He's overstepping his bounds by bypassing Congress, he's taking away guns, public places are more dangerous if they're gun-free zones. We've heard it all before, folks. And there isn't a lick of truth to any of it.

    Speaking of gun-free zones, I don't usually give advice to the GOP -- it's not exactly my business -- but this idea seemed so obvious for conservatives, I figured they just forgot to mention it: Why not let folks bring their guns to the Republican National Convention?

    If you listen to the rhetoric of many conservative wackadoodles, guns should be welcome at Quicken Loans Arena. (The only flashes the event staff should worry about should be from photography, not firearms.)

    The convention floor seems like logical next place to expand gun rights, a sort of manifest destiny for the Second Amendment. Republicans have already voted for your right to carry in all sorts of public places: churches in Georgia... state parks in Maine, Louisiana, and Virginia... stadiums, hospitals, and day care centers in Michigan... Mississippi high schools, courthouses, polling places, colleges, churches, and the passenger terminal of Jackson-Evers International Airport.

    Thanks to Republican legislators, you'll soon be able to pack heat on the quad of Texas A&M or at the college bar in town. Which brings a whole new meaning to "taking a shot."

    But for some reason, the march of progress hasn't made it yet to political rallies. The 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa - which adopted a platform "uphold[ing] the right... to keep and bear arms" - was curiously a "gun-free zone." Firearms were also disallowed at a campaign event last year in Nevada featuring Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. And when the Republican hopefuls debate on January 28 at Iowa Events Center, they'll be doing so in an arena that usually prohibits "weapons of any kind," presumably because the event coordinators think it'll keep people safer. In yet another head-scratcher, the RNC has chosen Quicken Loans Arena, where a stadium policy "strictly" forbids firearms, for their next national convention.

    This has to be an oversight.

    See, the conservative argument against gun-free zones - and for the right to carry anywhere - is that it deters gun violence. And if it doesn't deter gun violence, then at least it gives anybody the chance to put two in the chest of a wannabee murderer. As Ted Cruz put it, "You stop bad guys by using our guns."

    Cruz isn't alone here; conservatives haven't been shy about this. After the attacks in Paris, Donald Trump said that had the victims been carrying, it would have been a "much, much different situation." Then Ben Carson shared this interesting bit of history: Jews might have prevented the Holocaust if they'd been packing heat in the ghettos.

    In other words: Guns don't kill people. Guns just kill people who don't have guns.

    This is why it's crazy that the Republican National Convention hasn't declared itself a "gun-friendly zone" yet. Republicans know they need to protect themselves. RNC boss Reince Priebus should've put out a press release by now, a thumbs up next to a trigger finger, demanding that Quicken Loans Arena reverse its policy. And Ohio Governor Kasich and his Republican legislature should've already suspended the pesky law from July 18th to the 21st that allows the arena to set its policy so the Second Amendment can be in the speeches - and in the waistbands - of everyone at the convention.

    After all, these big political conventions always attract their fair share of threats. And sure, the Secret Service is there with snipers to protect the nominee. But shouldn't the Republicans on the floor - the guys from the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce and the fellows of the Heritage Foundation - be able to lock and load if ISIS breaks through the security barrier?

    Or what about outside of the arena? Republicans won't be exiting by way of the covered veranda at Augusta National. (There's always the 2020 convention, guys.) This is Cleveland, and Republicans know that Cleveland so urrrrban. It's full of... How do I put this gently? What's the euphemism they'd use? ... Cleveland is full of Democrats. (That sound you're hearing is a Republican dog whistle). And when you're feeling threatened in a city you don't know, you need protection.

    Look, I don't really expect anything bad to happen in Cleveland this summer. Maybe the combination of $15-dollar stadium cocktails and Limbaugh-style rage will lead the delegation from the Columbia, SC statehouse to harangue some RINO. But beyond that, I hope the convention is as boring and unwatchable as all the others.

    Nevertheless, as Senate candidate Sharron Angle reminded us, Republicans should be ready with "Second Amendment remedies" should a threat ever pop up.

    And if the threat never comes? Well... at least the convention-goers can take some target practice when the balloons drop. There's nothing more fun than some .22-caliber fireworks.

    Someone should just warn the nominee about the ricochet.

  • Is Our Pundits Learning?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMES CARVILLE

    Hillary Clinton

    The first rule of the Georgetown/Manhattan media establishment, for the last 23 years, has been that each and every piece of information about the Clintons must be presented in the most negative light possible. 

    Yesterday, I ran across a piece by Ed Kilgore on the Washington Monthly site. Ed is very thoughtful and provocative, and he points out that the Hillary-hating commentariat has lumped Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush together upon this weekend's release of the Iowa poll:

    It's natural every time a poll comes out showing either Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush losing ground in the presidential contest people tend to lump them into the same category of front-runner-facing-existential-challenge-but-may-survive kind of hedge-betting. And that's particularly true when a big survey comes out that tests both fields in a key battleground, like this weekend's Iowa Poll.

    What Ed is pointing to is further evidence of not only the depth of Hillary hating, but also the depth of the stupidity plaguing other members of our media corp.

    We have been told that these polls are bad news for Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, and left with the distinct impression that their positions in their respective parties are the same.

    But Ed points out that Clinton's favored by 37 percent of Iowa caucus goers, or 45 percent if Biden is not included -- and as far as I can determine he has not announced. 

    While Jeb is the favorite of only 6 percent of Republican caucus goers.

    Then we go to the favorable/unfavorable Hillary is 77/19 among Iowa Democrats, that's a net +58. While Bush's ratio is 45/50, net -5. There is a wide gulf between +58 and -5. The point here is that you should be extremely skeptical of anything that you read or hear about Clinton vs. Bush in any major news outlet. 

    I also read Joe Nocera's piece in the New York Times about the rape crisis at Ken Starr's Baylor University. I remember when Ken Starr was the hero of chin scratchers and dinner-party goers in Georgetown. He was once referred to in the Washington Post as a "Washington insider" while they gushed about how he had many friends, while Bill Clinton caused "humiliation."

    Now history's verdict has been written, and Bill Clinton has gone from having one of the most successful presidencies since WWII to being one of the three most popular men on planet Earth. Ken Starr, on the other hand, has seen his career go from cigarette lawyer to being "complicit," according to Nocera, in helping hush up Baylor rape accusations until now.

    Heck of a job commentariat!

    You can expect me to be posting a little more frequently. Contrary to what I hoped for at the beginning of this cycle, the Clinton haters in the press have exposed themselves again. We'll be adding a lot of light so you can see what's really going on.

    I think at the bottom of all this has to be the simple recognition that in the case of Ken Starr the Clintons are sometimes just better people than the folks that hate them claim.

    Jeb does not equal Hillary. Ken Starr does not equal Bill Clinton.

    Rarely is the question asked, "Is our pundits learning?"

    Get over it. 

  • Clinton Cash And The Clinton Rule

    Blog ››› ››› JAMES CARVILLE

    Clinton Cash bookJames Carville is a guest contributor to Media Matters.

    On March 12, I posted on Media Matters to discuss what I called the Clinton Rule. The Clinton Rule is as follows: There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for Hillary and Bill Clinton.

    Well this week we got the ultimate proof of the Clinton Rule when The New York Times got its hands on a copy of Clinton Cash, a forthcoming book which purportedly claims that the State Department received favors from foreign entities that donated to The Clinton Foundation. Now, I wasn't the least bit surprised that the conservative media echo chamber immediately reverberated with cries of the "very damning" "bombshell," of a book that "could threaten [Hillary's] campaign." And I say purportedly because almost no one has read the book yet.

    Here's the thing that did surprise me: 

    Never have we seen a more instant classic for followers of the Clinton Rule than with this latest tome. The book isn't even slated to be released for several weeks and yet The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and Fox News are in cahoots with the author -- reporting on what might be inside. I'll run you through the playbook.

    Let's start with the facts. The star of this latest instance of the Clinton Rule is the author, Peter Schweizer. He's a discredited fringe conservative activist and former political aide to the likes of George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Bobby Jindal. That's a trifecta that pays a high dollar for pushing right wing conspiracies. Schweizer has worked for such "reputable" publications as Breitbart.com -- the same Breitbart.com that once called gun safety advocate Gabby Giffords a "human shield" for the gun safety movement. His right wing bona fides don't end there. Schweizer is even listed as a contributor to one of former Fox News host Glenn Beck's books.

    Speaking of Schweizer's work -- back in 1998 he took on the "gay subculture" that was "blossoming" at Walt Disney World. In Disney: The Mouse Betrayed -- which is not listed on Schweizer's website with his other works -- he attacked the "gay activism" at the theme park, with special attention for the annual Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom. "There is a lot of openly displayed affection during the event -- holding hands, kissing, and the like," Schweizer wrote. God forbid. 

    Here's the deal, Peter Schweizer's new book out May 5 is likely to have serious problems -- one embarrassing error has reportedly already been found. As Media Matters noted this week, Schweizer has been called out at least ten times by journalists and independent fact checkers for getting his facts wrong in his previous articles and books. His past work has been called "incorrect," "bogus," and "a fatal shortcoming in journalism 101." In short, he's a SERIAL MISINFORMER. 

    Yet, The New York Times, Washington Post, and Fox News have all made exclusive agreements with Schweizer for early access to pursue "the story lines found in the book." I'm not shocked that Fox News took the shady deal here since Harper Collins, which is publishing Schweizer's book, is also owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and is the sister company of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox. But I'm hard pressed to find any reason why The New York Times and The Washington Post would do the same except for the Clinton Rule.

    The rule where every piece of nonsense the press can grab onto about the Clintons gets headline after headline.

    But here's the thing, friends. The last time I remember a major media outlet hyping a right wing book this much was when CBS' 60 Minutes got duped by a guy whose tall tale included him scaling a 12 foot wall on the side of the diplomatic compound in Benghazi and dispatching a terrorist with his rifle butt. We all know how that ended: a book pulled from publication, a 60 Minutes report retracted, and a "journalistic review" which ended with a CBS reporter and producer taking a leave of absence.

    All I'm saying here folks is this: The bottom line is that mainstream media must be up for the challenge. To all the reporters wanting to push the limits and take an advance look into the claims of a guy whose history of reporting is marked by errors and retractions, I say it's time to break the Clinton Rule. But in this case, I'm afraid the smarter bet is that we are going to see the same playbook over and over again.  

    Again, let me repeat what the Clinton Rule is: There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons. After the latest antics on the part of The New York Times I am forced to add to the Clinton Rule. At The New York Times when it comes to the Clintons, there are no rules.

  • Chin-Scratchers Take A Breath

    Blog ››› ››› JAMES CARVILLE

    Hillary and Bill Clinton

    James Carville is a guest contributor to Media Matters.

    Having been on the front line fighting these battles for over 20 years, let me explain to you the basic rule the Washington Press Corps employs when it comes to covering Bill and Hillary Clinton. It is an ironclad rule that most any journalist covering the Clintons must follow: There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons. Because, well.... because they are the Clintons. Henceforth this will be referred to as the Clinton Rule.

    My point to you, dear reader, is that it is the Washington Press Corps' rule, and they're not going to change it, but we as progressives don't have to accept it. That is why I am proud to be posting on this site, because no one is more effective at combatting the Clinton Rule than David Brock and his organizations.

    One thing I can promise you is that this is not the last made-up scandal.

    The endless, breathless coverage of the Hillary Clinton "email scandal" is nothing more than another made-up scandal in a long, long line of made-up scandals. Over the past 20-plus years, I have seen Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, Pardongate, and every piece of fake nonsense that the press and right can come up with. They all have one thing in common: take 'em all together, add 'em up, and multiply it by ten, and you come out with a pile of crap.

    To the extent that you are interested, these are the facts:

    There was nothing in the law that prohibited Secretary Clinton from using her personal email to conduct business as long as those emails were preserved, which they were. She preserved them and turned over all of them that had to do with State Department business -- 55,000 pages of them. But that's not enough for the right wing, who will continue to obsess over this issue until they find a new one.

    Let's watch the Clinton Rule in effect: Colin Powell and Jeb Bush also used their personal email, but they are held to a different standard in the press. Colin Powell admitted on ABC's This Week on Sunday that not only did he also use his personal email while secretary of state, but that he didn't preserve them or turn any of them over to the State Department as requested. 

    Everyone went wild when they heard that Secretary Clinton had her own email server, but for some reason they didn't seem to mind that Jeb Bush has his own server that hosts his personal email, and had the server housed in a state-owned office building when he was governor of Florida. The Washington Press Corps celebrated Bush's "transparency" for releasing 10 percent of his emails.

    But one thing we know -- understand this -- this is not the last story, and there will be many more. I wish that I could tell you that this trite nonsense is going to go away, but it won't. Based on all my time in Washington watching the GOP scandal machine go, my guess is that this story came as a result of contact between the New York Times and Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which is undoubtedly the most useless waste of congressional time in history.

    I would remind you that this is the same tactic that Dick Cheney used in 2002 when the Bush administration spoon-fed stories to the New York Times about Iraq trying to get their hands on aluminum tubes to enrich uranium to build an atomic bomb. The same morning the story hit, Cheney went on Meet the Press and cited the Times to help pave the way for the Iraq War.

    When it involves the Clintons, allow me to repeat the Clinton Rule:  There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons.

    The point is, there's just not a lot here. And the press knows it. You could almost touch the disappointment of the media yesterday when Secretary Clinton brought down the curtain on this charade.

    The press is just feeding this 20-year old habit. They took the bait from the Benghazi committee and used it to launch a new, fake scandal about Hillary Clinton's emails. And once again, they've had to walk the story back

    That's what happens when you have one standard for the Clintons, and a different one for everybody else, which is why I'll be writing regularly in this space.