Zachary Pleat

Author ››› Zachary Pleat
  • Chuck Todd silent as Sen. John Cornyn repeatedly lies about Republican bill gutting health care

    Cornyn misleads about GOP bill’s effects, Republicans’ record on sabotaging the health insurance market, and Democrats’ willingness to offer improvements

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    On NBC’s Meet the Press, Chuck Todd failed to correct or contextualize Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-TX) multiple misleading statements about the GOP Senate’s bill, which would cost millions of Americans their health insurance.

    On July 13, Senate Republicans released a revised version of their bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act after the original version, which would have kicked 22 million Americans off of their health insurance, failed to secure enough votes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed the vote for the revised version, planned for this week, after Sen. John McCain recently underwent surgery, and two GOP senators have so far said they will not vote for the revised bill, leaving its future uncertain.

    On July 16, Cornyn appeared on Meet the Press to make the case for the GOP bill and made statements misrepresenting the bill, the current insurance market under the Affordable Care Act, and Democrats’ alternatives to improve the insurance market -- and Todd let him.

    When asked by Todd near the beginning of the interview what it says about the bill that the vote is so close that they need McCain’s vote to move forward, Cornyn decried that the bill has “become a partisan issue,” stating, “our Democratic friends are refusing to lift a finger to help their burdened constituents who are being hurt.” But Cornyn’s protestation rings hollow given the unprecedented secret process Senate Republicans used to draft the bill, which barred any Democratic input. And the process was designed from the start to pass with only Republican votes through the budget reconciliation process, without help from Democrats.

    Later, Cornyn claimed Republicans are “offering a better alternative” to the current health insurance market, bemoaning that “we know millions of people are seeing sky-high premiums, [and] unaffordable deductibles, and fleeing insurance markets.” Yet the CBO predicted that if the BCRA passes, premiums would rise until 2020, and only decline after that because the insurance plans would cover fewer services, and thus would be worth less. And the bill would cause deductibles to climb even higher -- in some cases, up to 24 times higher.

    At the end of the interview, Cornyn claimed Republicans are “willing to do what we can to shore up the system now, to stabilize it to make health care available to people now” and asserted that Democrats don’t want to make any changes. Cornyn’s first claim here is just ludicrous on its face; Republicans have spent years sabotaging the the Affordable Care Act, from ending risk corridor payments to insurance companies, to obstructing efforts by both states and the federal government to create the health insurance exchange marketplaces, and of course to some Republican-controlled states declining to participate in the Medicaid expansion and leaving many of their constituents uninsured. Insurers have even admitted that they are raising premiums and pulling out of exchanges because of the uncertainty in the market created by Republicans.

    Democratic senators offered back in March to work with Republicans to fix problems with the insurance market if they agreed to drop their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And days ago, some House Democrats said they will introduce some fixes to the individual insurance market, which includes a reinsurance program to offset the costs of the sickest patients, removing uncertainty from the Trump administration's threats to end some cost-sharing subsidies, moving the open enrollment season, and offering a Medicare buy-in for some older Americans.

    Todd allowed Cornyn to make these statements without any pushback. Republicans have been repeatedly called out for their lies and deceptions regarding their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- both by media outlets and even other Republicans. With the insurance coverage of millions at stake, interviewers like Chuck Todd must be better prepared to confront Republican lawmakers when they make their case with lies and misrepresentations.

  • MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle is obsessed with a Republican talking point about Jon Ossoff

    At least 21 congressional representatives also live outside the districts they were elected to represent

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle has obsessed over a right-wing talking point about Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff's decision not to establish residence in the 6th district where he is running in a June 20 special election. However, as The Washington Post has noted, at least 21 congressional representatives live outside of the districts they represent and Ossoff grew up in the 6th district before moving a few miles away.

    For months, Republicans and right-wing media attacked Ossoff for living just outside of Georgia’s 6th congressional district, and during the race it has become a major talking point, with outside groups running ads against him. President Donald Trump also tweeted similar attacks on the days of the primary election in April and the special election in June:

    During an interview on CNN in April, Ossoff made it clear that he intends to move back to the 6th congressional district where he “grew up” once his fiancee finishes medical school. But Ruhle has repeatedly raised this Republican talking point during interviews with him and during discussions of the race.

    During a June 16 interview, Ruhle noted that this line of attack had been used by Ossoff’s Republican opponent and acknowledged his reason for living outside the district. But she still pressed him on it, asking: “Why don’t you just move, at this point? I mean, you want to get this job, to me it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, why wouldn’t you just move so you could represent the district that you’d be governing?”

    She brought up this GOP talking point again the morning of the election in a panel discussion, saying, “This is one I just can’t get over -- if you think about what people are going after him over -- the president tweeting about it this morning. This is resolvable. He just needs to get a house in the district.” And just minutes later, Ruhle again grilled Ossoff about his address, demanding to know why he just doesn’t move (emphasis added):

    STEPHANIE RUHLE (HOST): Jon, I know you said it earlier, every vote counts. It is all about voter turnout. And I asked you the other day, but it's extraordinary, one of the main points that Karen Handel and even President Trump has pushed against you is something that's very easy to solve: where you live. And if you get elected you're going to be spending the majority of your time in Washington. And while people respect across the board your desire to support your fiancee, she is in medical school, she walks to work across the street at 4 a.m., you're going to be getting a job that has you on a plane living in another part of the country most days of the week. With every vote counting, with every point counting, why not move, sir?

    JON OSSOFF: Well, Steph, voters just aren't asking me this question. Voters are asking me what I'm going to do to improve our local economy, voters are asking me what I'm going to do to ensure they have access to health care. Voters are asking me what I'm going to do to bring greater accountability to Washington. Folks here in Georgia’s 6th district care about how their representation is going to impact their daily lives. And frankly, if this is the best argument my opponents have against me, I'm feeling pretty good about the outcome tonight. I grew up in this community, as you mentioned I live a couple of miles down the road to support my fiancee while she finishes medical school. I’m running to serve my hometown in Congress and I want to make them proud.

    RUHLE: But, Jon, since the special election where you were at 48.1, things have only moved to 48.8 with 50 million bucks under your belt. So voters care about a lot. If you look back on this and things are that tight, wouldn't you say to yourself, just get an apartment in the district, this race counts so much?

    OSSOFF: Well, if voters were raising that as a serious concern, Steph, maybe I would. But voters care about how policy and how representation is going to impact their daily lives. They know I grew up in this community, they know I grew up in the 6th district, they know why I'm a couple miles south of the line. It's just not a major issue in the race. I'm focused on delivering representation that will serve our local economy, that will serve the daily needs of the people I hope to represent. And I'm offering a fresh voice to bring that kind of service to the 6th district.

    Ruhle’s obsession with this GOP attack against Ossoff is undermined by data showing at least 21 members of the House of Representatives live outside of the districts they represent. The Washington Post published an analysis on June 20 that found “that at least 5 percent of [House members] live outside their districts” (emphasis added):

    There’s no legal reason he should have to live in the district he hopes to represent; the Constitution mandates only that members of the House live in the state they are going to represent. That said, it’s generally considered politically advantageous to actually be a resident of the area you hope to represent.

    If elected, Ossoff wouldn’t be the only member of Congress living in Georgia’s 5th District. There’s also Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who represents the district. But a review of vote registration records by The Washington Post suggests that Ossoff would be the third member of Congress to make his home in the 5th. According to voter data provided to The Post by the political data firm L2, Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) is also registered to vote in the district, instead of the 13th District that he represents.

    In fact, The Post identified 20 members of Congress who are registered to vote outside of the districts they serve. In some cases, it’s clearly a function of redistricting. Four members of the House from southern Florida, for example, live outside of the districts they represent, but that’s likely because the Florida Supreme Court redrew the district boundaries at the end of 2015.

    In total, we identified the records for 395 members of Congress, matching names and birthdates to voter files.

    [...]

    The broader point, though, is a simple one: Should Ossoff win the run-off in the 6th District in June, he will hardly be the only member of Congress to live outside of his district.

  • Kellyanne Conway gives a big thumbs-up to Fox's Trump coverage

    Fox has adopted Conway’s oft-repeated lament that media outlets aren’t covering Trump’s supposed accomplishments enough

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has spent months demanding media outlets end “presumptively negative” coverage of the president and devote more time to his accomplishments. Now, Fox has begun adopting her wishes by repeating her criticism -- to the point that she praised them in a recent interview for doing so.

    In the weeks following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Conway has repeatedly criticized interviewers for focusing on events or statements by the administration that make Trump look bad and tried to steer conversation to what the administration views as positive developments and news.

    This is a strategy she has followed no matter what Trump has said or done. After the president called the press the “enemy of the American People” in March, Conway asserted on Fox that journalists have a “responsibility” to “not be presumptively negative” in their coverage of Trump. In April, Conway told Fox host Jeanine Pirro that “the mainstream media are making Americans suffer from information underload on all the great things the president is doing” by instead covering Trump’s scandals. Trump has reinforced Conway’s admonishment of the media with his own tweets. (However, media have noted that many of Trump’s supposed accomplishments either have little or nothing to do with him, or are just political theater with little substance.)

    Fox News recently showed that it has taken Conway’s criticism to heart and adopted her idea of what media coverage of the Trump administration should look like.

    On June 11, MediaBuzz host and media critic Howard Kurtz noted that during “infrastructure week,” the May 16-19 week in which the administration attempted to heavily promote Trump’s plans for infrastructure repairs, “the media attention was so focused” on former FBI Director James Comey and Russia that the president’s agenda was not covered. He concluded: “There is some responsibility on the part of the media to keep reporting on things that actually affect the lives of most Americans and not just Washington scandal stuff.”

    The next day, Fox Business host Stuart Varney went on Fox & Friends to gush over the country’s economic performance and lambaste other news outlets for not adopting a 100 percent optimistic view of the economy in their headlines. After co-host Steve Doocy stated that “the mainstream media has a whole different story” on the economy, Varney went all-in on criticizing news outlets for their continued coverage of Trump’s scandals, declaring it a “disgrace” and “a crying shame” that they weren’t devoting more time to the economy’s performance under Trump:

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Well, numbers don't lie. The economy on the rise under President Trump, but the mainstream media has a whole different story. Here's some of the headlines, The New York Times claiming "weak spots remain," Washington Examiner citing a "roller coaster economy," and Bloomberg going as far as calling the president's economic agenda "almost dead."

    [...]

    STUART VARNEY: I think it's a disgrace, quite frankly. Here we have the media concentrating en masse, Russia, Russia, Russia. Comey, Comey, Comey, plots, investigations. All of that is front page news all the time. What's going on in people’s lives -- better jobs, wages, housing improving, the improvement in our economy, our financial way of life -- that goes uncovered, and that's a crying shame.

    Less than 30 minutes after Varney’s tirade, Fox & Friends interviewed Conway, and co-host Brian Kilmeade said to her that “these other media outlets are trying to kill you.” Conway responded by praising Fox for doing what she’s been demanding of news outlets for months (emphasis added):

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Kellyanne you are a genius at politics. Every time the president mentions Comey or Russia, it doesn't work to his advantage. It works to the Democrats’.

    KELLYANNE CONWAY: I know he’s …

    KILMEADE: So if you agree with that, maybe you don't, if you agree with that and the president wants to get his agenda through, wouldn't he be better off not doing anything about those things, letting others do it?

    CONWAY: He is likely watching and getting your advice right now, Brian. But at the same time, I don't know why people just can't cover both. In other words, if I hear one more time, well we wanted to cover infrastructure, we wanted to cover jobs and workforce development. We really wanted to talk about this incredible economy of 4.3 percent unemployment, lowest in 15 years. Fewer unemployed since 2007, I believe. And certainly the confidence numbers are way up. For the last decade, they haven't been this high. So why can't people cover both stories?

    [CROSSTALK]

    KILMEADE: Because they are trying to kill you. Because these other media outlets are trying to kill you.

    CONWAY: No kidding. No kidding, but he’s the president.

    KILMEADE: That’s just it. So don’t give them the bloody knife.

    CONWAY: They need to, quote, “accept the election results.” All the things that I was asked and the president was asked and everybody was asked six weeks to Sunday, from that October 19 debate in Las Vegas when he said, “I will keep you in suspense.” And the next day he said in Ohio at a rally, “I will accept them if I win.” And people freaked out and they’re still freaking out. So -- but I think that the responsibility is to cover all of the above. And look, the media has a great responsibility and a great role here. They can be telling the veterans that hey, you’re now --

    KILMEADE: But they're not.

    CONWAY: Well, but they should. And you at least give us a platform to talk about facts, to talk about all the great things that are happening that impact real people's lives.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): That's because, Kellyanne, they care more about politics than they do about America. I mean, they’re not reporting on this.

    And on June 16, Conway reappeared on the network to again trash the media for supposedly not covering the president properly. Conway said Fox was the only network not criticizing the president “as Steve Scalise was fighting for his life and crawling into right field.” Co-host Ainsley Earhardt questioned how the media would cover Trump’s upcoming change in Cuba policy later that day:

    KELLYANNE CONWAY: I did a really clever thing. I went back and looked at exactly what was being discussed on all of the TV shows except [Fox & Friends] at 7:09 a.m. on Wednesday when this happened, and it's a really curious exercise because as Steve Scalise was fighting for his life and crawling into right field in a trail of blood, you should go back and see what people were saying about the president and the Republicans at that very moment. Of course, they had to break in with the news of this tragedy and since then there’s been some introspection, some quieter, more muted voices, toning down the rhetoric, but look at Twitter: If I were shot and killed tomorrow, half of Twitter would explode in applause and excitement. This is the world we live in now.

    [...]

    AINSLEY EARHARDT: Yeah, we’re going to have to watch and see how [the media] cover things going forward. That was all before the shooting happened. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media covers President Trump’s trip to Miami today. What is he doing down in Miami today, Kellyanne?

    CONWAY: So down in Miami today, the president is doing a very exciting for the Cuban people. Our unity is with the Cuban people, not the oppressive Cuban regime that has benefitted from these changes in the Obama administration policies that helped the military, the security, and the intelligence entities there benefit from U.S.-derived funds. That has to stop and that will stop.

  • Qatari crisis shows grave implications of Trump’s Twitter account

    Yes, the media should take statements from the president seriously, be they on Twitter or any other platform

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s staffers have excoriated the media for covering the president’s tweets and for questioning his use of the platform, claiming that "it's social media," not official government policy. However, the Qatari government’s bewildered reaction to Trump’s tweets criticizing the Persian Gulf state over terrorism financing, followed by the president contradicting his secretary of state’s call to ease a recent blockade against Qatar by other Arab nations, demonstrates that journalists should ignore White House staffers’ admonishments and treat Trump's social media comments as presidential statements.

    On June 5, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka made television appearances where they lectured journalists about their coverage of the president’s tweets. When hosts on NBC’s Today and CNN’s New Day asked Trump’s staffers about tweets he had sent earlier that morning, they derided the hosts for their, as Conway put it, “obsession with covering everything [Trump] says on Twitter.” Gorka also repeatedly told his interviewer that the interviewer was “obsessed” with Trump’s tweets and tried arguing that “a hundred characters is not policy. … It’s not policy. It’s social media.”

    Enter the sudden diplomatic crisis between Qatar, which hosts America’s largest military base in the region, and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Several Arab nations cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and cut off access routes to its territory because of the nation’s supposed support for radical Islamist groups. Trump reacted to the volatile situation by posting a series of tweets taking credit for the move to isolate Qatar -- while also explaining why he uses social media to communicate:

    Trump staffers’ may insist to the media that the president’s tweets aren’t policy and shouldn’t be taken seriously, but the Qatari government apparently feels otherwise. In a June 6 interview with The Daily Beast, Qatar’s ambassador to the U.S., Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani, stated that the Trump administration didn’t express any hostility to Qatar until Trump began tweeting:

    Qatar’s brand new ambassador to Washington was already bewildered, along with much of the rest of his country, at dramatic moves by several Arab nations in the past 48 hours to cut diplomatic and trade ties with the tiny Gulf nation. The hate tweets by Donald Trump only made things worse.

    “We were surprised,” said Ambassador Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani, perhaps the understatement of the year from the diplomat who is just a couple of months into his post here. “No one approached us directly and said, ‘Look, we have problems with this and this and this,’” he told The Daily Beast in his first on-the-record interview since the controversy broke.

    [...]

    President Donald Trump hailed the move in tweets as proof his recent visit to the region was a success. “They said they would take a hard line on funding… extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism,” he tweeted.

    But here’s the strange thing. Trump had hailed the Gulf nation in his landmark summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, calling Qatar “a crucial strategic partner,” and he met with Qatari leader Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani—and raised no complaints, the ambassador said.

    “We participated in Riyadh. We had a good meeting with the president and with [Saudi] King Salman—nothing was raised,” he said. The Treasury Department has praised Qatar’s work on terrorist financing, and the gulf nation plays host to a massive U.S. air base. Its special operations forces fight side by side with American special operators on a number of battlefields.

    “It’s unfortunate to see these tweets,” the ambassador said. “We have close coordination with the United States. They know our efforts to combat financial terrorism and terrorism.”

    So much for the president’s tweets not being government policy.

    Trump’s June 9 press conference underscored the importance of media scrutinizing the president's social media posts. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had publicly defended Qatar just an hour before the presser and had called for the Arab countries that had severed ties with the Persian Gulf state to “immediately take steps to de-escalate the situation and put forth a good faith effort to resolve the grievances they have with each other.” But during a presser with the president of Romania, Trump slammed Qatar, again accusing it of having “been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” and cited Tillerson’s support of his idea that “the time has come to call on Qatar to end its funding” of terrorism. As it turns out, Trump’s tweets were a clear indication of his thinking at the time and showed that journalists should ignore Conway, Gorka, and anyone else from the administration urging them to discount their importance.

    Just ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which just cited a Trump tweet as an "official statement" of the president.

  • Sunday shows ignore Angela Merkel saying Europe can no longer rely on the United States

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Medienmagazin / Creative Commons

    Before today’s cable and broadcast network Sunday political talk shows aired, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in a speech that President Donald Trump’s visit to the NATO and G7 summits showed that Europe no longer sees the United States as a reliable ally. Even though most of the Sunday shows discussed or mentioned Trump’s overseas trip, none of the shows reported on this perspective of his visit.

    During a reelection campaign stop in Munich, Germany, The New York Times reported Merkel “has apparently concluded that the United States of President Trump is not the reliable partner her country and continent have automatically depended on in the past.” Citing Trump’s refusal to publicly endorse the NATO doctrine of collective defense and inability to agree to common positions on climate change, Russia, and other issues, she “said on Sunday that traditional alliances were no longer as reliable as they once were, and that Europe should pay more attention to its own interests ‘and really take our fate into our own hands.’”

    The NY Times further reported:

    Her strong comments were a further indication that Mr. Trump’s trip did not go down well with influential European leaders and that it seems, at least from the Continent’s perspective, to have increased trans-Atlantic strains rather than diminish them.

    Ms. Merkel did not mention Mr. Trump by name, and she also spoke of Britain’s decision to quit the European Union, a move seen as weakening trans-Atlantic ties and leaving the Continent more exposed.

    [...]

    Speaking on the campaign trail after contentious summit meetings in Belgium and Italy, Ms. Merkel said: “The times in which we could rely fully on others, they are somewhat over.”

    “This is what I experienced in the last few days,” she said.

    Given this new context for international relations, she said, “that is why I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands — of course in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain and as good neighbors wherever that is possible also with other countries, even with Russia.”

    Though Merkel’s comments were reported on before the Sunday shows began airing, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union, NBC’s Meet the Press, ABC’s This Week, and CBS’ Face the Nation all failed to mention her speech. (Face the Nation mentioned that “some not-so-happy allies were left questioning the president’s commitment to NATO and a global pact on climate change” but did not mention Merkel’s comments.)  NY Times correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum demonstrated how comments like Merkel’s could and should shape media coverage of Trump’s recent visit -- something the Sunday shows failed to deliver to their viewers.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “NATO” and “Merkel” on the May 28 editions of CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday.

  • Fox uses Manchester terror attack by UK native to justify Trump's Muslim ban

    That doesn’t even make sense

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News used a deadly terror attack that killed 22 at a concert in Manchester, England, to advocate for President Donald Trump’s stalled Muslim ban, which would ban travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries. But this argument makes no sense given that Trump's ban doesn't apply to citizens and the attack was carried out by a U.K. native who was born in Manchester.

  • Conservatives Deflect From Trump's Cover-Up By Calling Comey A Criminal

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & JARED HOLT

    President Donald Trump’s conservative media allies are attacking former FBI Director James Comey and accusing him of wrongdoing for writing and keeping a memo about a February meeting with Trump. The memo reportedly revealed that Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn. Despite the outrage aimed at Comey by conservative media figures for not divulging the memo earlier, experts have explained that doing so could have interfered with the FBI’s investigation.