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  • Will right-wing media call out Georgia GOP leader for politicizing Scalise’s shooting?

    Conservatives have repeatedly slammed lawmakers “politicizing” tragedy by merely talking about gun violence in the wake of a shooting

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Right-wing media have been quick to criticize politicians and activists for “politicizing” mass shootings by talking about gun violence prevention in their wake. But after a GOP official in Georgia suggested that the June 14 shooting in Alexandria, VA, which critically injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and four others, “is going to win this election for us,” will conservatives care enough to call out the clear exploitation and politicization of the shooting?

    The Washington Post reported that ahead of the June 20 special election for a congressional seat in Georgia’s sixth district, Brad Carver, the chairman of the Republican party in a neighboring district, said, “I’ll tell you what: I think the shooting is going to win this election for us,” adding, “moderates and independents in this district are tired of left-wing extremism.”

    In the past, Fox News and others in conservative media have derided officials for “politicizing” tragedies because they spoke out about gun violence prevention in the wake of shootings. After the June 12, 2016, shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, then-Fox News contributor Stacey Dash lambasted former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for “politicizing” the shooting in order to “advance an anti-gun agenda.” After an August 2015, shooting in Virginia, Sean Hannity called out Obama, saying he “tried to politicize” the shooting by talking about gun violence. And after an October 2015 mass shooting in Oregon, Fox’s Kevin Corke criticized Obama for “politicizing” gun violence, saying, “Politicizing gun violence usually is a terrible decision.”

    Carver isn’t advocating for a solution to gun violence, but rather he is celebrating the potential political advantage the shooting could bring. Despite Carver’s blunt politicization of the shooting, it seems unlikely that right-wing media will break from their campaign against Democrat Jon Ossoff to speak out against it.

  • Megyn Kelly's Alex Jones segment shows how public pressure works

    It could have gone worse, but a competent report won't undo the damage done

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A well-deserved firestorm of denunciations from the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting and other critics forced Megyn Kelly to turn a report that was originally billed as a self-promotional head-to-head showdown with Alex Jones into a well-edited investigation of the dangers posed by an unstable megalomaniac with millions of loyal fans, including one in the Oval Office.

    But Kelly deserves little credit -- she acted in response to overwhelming public pressure, and the network’s impotent reaction to Jones’ own grabs for media attention may allow the nation's biggest producer of conspiracy theory media to come out the winner of tonight’s program.

    At no point since Kelly teased her interview with Jones at the end of last week’s show has she or NBC been able to control the narrative spinning out of her own show. It’s a shocking failure for one of the media’s savviest manipulators of her own image, and the network that hired her.

    Immediately after last week’s Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, Sandy Hook family members began speaking out. They said they had suffered years of torment and harassment due to Jones’ claims that the shooting was a “hoax,” and denounced Kelly for granting him a platform. Desperate to salvage the situation as brutal headlines rolled in, NBC all but promised its critics that the segment would be edited to portray Jones as negatively as possible.

    That’s exactly what happened. The segment benefited from devoting very little time to Kelly’s interview with Jones, minimizing his opportunity to appeal to her audience. Instead, through strong voiceover, clips from Jones’ program featuring the host spouting conspiracies, and interviews with a conservative commentator who opposes Jones’ influence and the father of a child who died at Sandy Hook, Kelly explained how Jones operates, the harassment his targets experience, and his close ties to President Donald Trump.

    The segment reportedly went through drastic changes following the spate of condemnation, with NBC adding an interview with a Sandy Hook family member and slicing and dicing the footage of Kelly’s sit-down with Jones to make it more damaging to him. It’s not unusual for networks to edit stories right up until airtime. But last week’s public relations nightmare clearly played a role in the segment NBC ended up running.

    NBC deserved that nightmare. Kelly was hired to be a new face of the network and given a program aimed to challenge CBS’ 60 Minutes for newsmagazine primacy. But after the first episodes of her newsmagazine show suffered from poor ratings and reviews criticizing her interviewing skill, NBC took a chance with a Jones sit-down, which offered Kelly the opportunity to reset the show’s reputation with a viral moment.

    That the network’s executives apparently didn’t realize that news of the segment would trigger a backlash from Jones’ victims shows a tremendous lack of foresight and ignorance of the subject matter. NBC paid for that failure with a series of awful news cycles pitting their new star against traumatized families who had lost their children who castigated Kelly for giving Jones a platform.

    I believe Jones is a newsworthy subject for national news outlets. It is important for the American people to learn how the nation's most prominent conspiracy theorist has garnered a large audience and gained the ear of Trump (the circumstances were different earlier in the decade, when Media Matters criticized several networks for giving him a platform). But as I argued last week, interviewing Jones’ victims would be more likely to shed light on his character than Kelly’s initial approach of focusing on a head-to-head showdown. The week of controversy drastically changed NBC’s calculus, producing a significantly better segment than suggested by last Sunday’s preview.

    It’s too early to tell whether the Sandy Hook families who criticized the decision to interview Jones will be satisfied with the result, or if they will deal another blow to Kelly’s stature. But while Jones isn't having a meltdown, he can't feel good about the segment's clear implication that he is a dangerous extremist. And given how badly the radio host beat the network’s PR team this week, they may have something to fear from him as well.

    Kelly and her network were caught flat-footed, unable to either anticipate or successfully react as Jones repeatedly outmaneuvered them, taking control of the narrative and successfully framing the story for the national media through the propagandistic manipulations that make him such a dangerous force.

    Jones “has learned how to program the mainstream news by inciting outrage online that is then discussed and covered by mainstream media,” BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel reported after Jones released embarrassing audio of phone calls in which Kelly tries to talk him into doing the interview. “But Kelly and NBC were ill-equipped to deal with the pro-Trump media apparatus. Instead, they adhered to the traditional rules of a big television interview that assume a good-faith relationship between interviewer and interviewee.”

    Jones escalated his public relations offensive as the interview approached, releasing a Father’s Day video in which he offered “sincere condolences” to the Sandy Hook families, lied about his previous comments about the attack, and lashed out at NBC. Jones was live on the air before Kelly’s show aired, spreading rumors about Kelly and threatening to release his own recording of their interview if he was displeased with the result. After it aired, seeking to bolster the image that he won the night, he and his cronies drank a champagne toast on camera. As Jones again tried to take over the story online, the NBC News and Megyn Kelly twitter feeds went dark, ceding him the social space.

    The radio host wanted more attention, and he got it, seeking to build his audience by portraying himself as the mainstream media’s victim. Thanks to Kelly’s failure to control her own narrative, he may well succeed.

    Kelly’s segment demonstrates that, with enough pressure, broadcast outlets can produce adequate reports on the pro-Trump fringe. But the last week shows they still haven’t learned enough to effectively defend their work against an alternative media assault. And it remains to be seen whether NBC’s failure to control the narrative around Jones’ interview helped him more than an otherwise competent segment hurt him.

  • How Trump uses Twitter to show his love for Fox News

    And his dislike of almost everyone else

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The mutually beneficial relationship between President Donald Trump and Fox News has been readily apparent for a while, partly because of the network’s Trump mania during the campaign. But after nearly 150 days of Trump’s presidency, Fox -- and in particular Trump’s favorite morning show, Fox & Friends -- has essentially become a propaganda outlet for the president. In return, Trump has praised Fox and echoed claims made by the network, while also attacking Fox News’ competitors as “fake news.”

    One of the main ways Trump shows his adoration for Fox is through his Twitter account, where the president has often been explicit in his appreciation for the network’s coverage. According to a Media Matters search on the Trump Twitter Archive, along with a manual search of Trump’s tweets, between Inauguration Day, January 20, and June 16, Trump has:

    • tweeted at Fox & Friends (@foxandfriends) 16 times;

    • retweeted Fox & Friends (@foxandfriends) 15 times;

    • tweeted or retweeted a link to Fox News or Fox Business’ website at least nine times; and

    • tweeted at Fox News (@FoxNews) 11 times.

    Trump oftentimes retweets misleading or inaccurate Fox reports and graphics. For example, Fox’s tweets highlighting employment gains in the February jobs report failed to note that much of the gains were part of a pattern that preceded Trump’s presidency. In March, Trump retweeted a highly misleading Fox & Friends report claiming terrorists were using religious visas to enter the U.S., even though the report did not cite even one example. And in May, despite his past criticism of anonymous sources, Trump retweeted Fox pushing a dubious report from a single anonymous source who claimed Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, did not suggest to the Russians that they establish a secret communications channel, which was contrary to other reporting.

    In addition, Trump has also shared at least 11 Fox videos and graphics, frequently using them to highlight Fox’s misleading portrayal of economic news, which has been framed to look positive for Trump. Trump also seems to nearly exclusively rely on Fox whenever he wants to share footage of himself from events and ceremonies, such as an inaugural ball, the signing of executive orders, and his speech at a NATO gathering. Trump as president has also tweeted links to Fox stories more than to those of any other individual outlet, tweeting at least seven Fox articles.

    Trump on multiple occasions has even used his Twitter account to laud Fox’s reporting, saying “@foxandfriends is great,” referencing its “great reporting,” praising its segments, and congratulating the show on its ratings. In return, Fox has at least on some occasions showed or read on air tweets by Trump that mention the network. Most recently, on June 16, Trump retweeted Sean Hannity's tweet that he would have on his show a "monologue on the Deep State’s allies in the media."

    Perhaps what makes Trump’s online fawning over Fox most jarring is the sharp contrast to how he talks about other media outlets on Twitter. In line with his administration’s war on the press, Trump has regularly attacked other outlets by name, often calling them “fake news” and even once going so far as to call some media outlets the “enemy of the American People.” Just last week, Trump tweeted, “Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH.”

    From a Media Matters analysis:

    • Number of tweets in which Trump invoked “fake news”: at least 49

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked The New York Times: 18

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked ABC: five

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked NBC or MSNBC: eight

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked CBS: two

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked CNN: nine

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked The Washington Post: three

  • Roger Stone is calling for Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein to be fired for their “witch hunt” against Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Roger Stone says President Trump should fire special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for “wasting the taxpayer’s money” in what he called, a “witch hunt” to take down the president.

    During an interview with CNN Money, Stone, a close ally and longtime adviser of Donald Trump blasted the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russians calling it a wasteful “witch hunt.” Stone’s comments come after Trump tweeted similar remarks earlier in the day calling the investigation a “witch hunt” and cryptically claiming he is being investigated by “the man who told [him] to fired the FBI Director,” an attack presumably accusing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein of investigating him for firing former FBI Director Comey at his direction.

    Stone sells himself as Trump’s inside man and has openly talked about his official and unofficial roles in Trump’s presidential campaign. He has been under FBI scrutiny for his role in allegedly “colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House.” Stone maintains his innocence despite the investigation and continues to downplay his role in coordinating with the Russians during the election.

    JEFF ZELENY: Now as the president returns to the White House in this hour, one question above all that he's facing is what is his relationship with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein? Now, the president has said through his aides he does not plan, at this time, to try and fire the special counsel Bob Mueller, but there's one person recommending he does just that. Jake [Tapper], Roger Stone, the president's longtime friend and associate told CNN Money earlier today this, “I'd fire Mueller and Rosenstein for wasting the taxpayer's money. This is a witch-hunt.” Those words sound familiar.

  • Here's why no one should listen to Newt Gingrich

    Gingrich, who accused Bill Clinton of obstruction of justice, claims presidents can’t obstruct justice

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    In his flimsiest statement yet in his crusade to delegitimize the ongoing FBI investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign, Fox News contributor and Trump adviser Newt Gingrich falsely proclaimed that "technically, the president of the United States cannot obstruct justice."

    From the June 16 event at the National Press Club:

    Twitter users were quick to point out that Gingrich, during his time as speaker of the House, helped impeach then-President Bill Clinton, in part for obstructing justice.

    But this is only the latest instance in which Gingrich has stretched the truth -- or flat-out lied -- to defend Trump. Gingrich and his right-wing media allies are currently engaged in a campaign to discredit former FBI Director James Comey and the current special counsel in charge of the investigation, Robert Mueller, even resorting to baseless conspiracy theories. Gingrich and other conservative media figures are attempting to smear Mueller as biased or having an “agenda,” with Gingrich commenting, “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair.” These same media figures have praised Mueller in the past, and Trump himself considered Mueller as a replacement for Comey to lead the FBI.

  • What Megyn Kelly says in leaked audio from Alex Jones

    Kelly soothes Jones’ fragile ego, assures him the interview will not be contentious, tells him that her show is about “fun,” and even promises to let Jones review any clips they use.

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    Just days ahead of Megyn Kelly’s June 18 interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the Infowars founder leaked purported audio of him and the NBC anchor. Jones was seeking to defend himself because he believed that Kelly, whom he called a “modern-day Medusa,” would edit her report to make it a hit piece on Jones.

    There is no doubt that the audio was edited by Infowars. Jones released it to portray himself in a favorable light and “set the record straight” after he didn’t like NBC’s promo of his interview. Though Jones admits at points that he has done things that he is not proud of, the phone call includes several telling moments about Kelly and NBC:

    Kelly wooed Jones by downplaying his lying, conspiracy theories, and connections to harassment

    • “The reason you are interesting to me is because I followed your custody case, and I think you had a very good point about the way the media was covering it and for some reason treated you and your family and what was going on as fair game when they never would have done that, if you will, of a mainstream media figure. And I saw a different side of you in that whole thing. You just became very fascinating to me.”
    • “I just sort of thought you were this maybe, you know, one-dimensional guy. Like this is your thing. And the comments I heard from you during the course of that trial, and your plea to the media to be respectful of you and your kids just reminded me that you’re just like anybody. You know, you’re a dad.

    Kelly pledged that she wouldn’t ask Jones tough questions, that her show was “fun,” and that the interview would not be a “gotcha hit piece”

    • After Jones asked if Kelly would bring up his controversies, including his comments about Sandy Hook and Pizzagate: “No, I can ask you about that. This is not going to be a contentious, sort of, gotcha exchange. Right? That’s not what this show is and that’s really not what I want to do. I want to do in-depth profiles on people. Just interesting people. So I can ask you that, this is what the critics say. But this isn’t going to be ah-ha, let’s play a clip.
    • “I’m trying to create a different kind of program. And it’s fun. I’ll ask you about some of the controversies, of course. And you’ll say whatever you want to say. But, it’s not going to be some gotcha hit piece. I promise you that."
    • I’m not looking to portray you as some boogeyman, or, you know, do any sort of a gotcha moment. I just want to talk about you. I want people to get to know you. And the craziest thing of all would be if some of the people who have this insane version of you in their heads walk away saying, ‘You know what? I see, like, the dad in him. I see the guy who loves those kids, and who is more complex than I’ve been led to believe.’”

    Kelly told Jones he would have oversight of portions of the interview

    • “I will promise you to personally look at any clips we want to use of you. And have a producer run by you whether we are taking it in context and what you are saying about it.
    • “If I ask you about any controversy, you’ll have the chance to address it fully. And I’m not going to cut you in a way that’s going to take out the heart of your explanation or the real substance of it. I won’t do that.”
    • “We’ll do like a walk-and-talk and we’ll set up something nice. Or we can -- one of my producers will weigh in on that because they know how to make it look beautiful. And they’ll work with you and do something that’s acceptable to you.”

    Kelly referred to her audience on NBC as “the left”

    • “My goal is for your listeners, and the left who will be watching, some, on NBC, to say, ‘Wow, that was really interesting.’ All I can do is give you my word and tell you if there’s one thing about me, I do what I say I’m going to do, and I don’t double-cross. So I promise you, when it’s over you’ll say, ‘Absolutely, she did what she said she was going to do.’ And you’ll be fine with it.”

    Kelly highlighted the lack of editorial standards in cable news, such as her previous employer Fox​

    • “Truly, it’s like a whole new world over there [at NBC]. They deeply care about this kind of thing. And, it’s not that we didn’t care on cable. It’s just a different game on cable. You know, you move faster and it’s more real time. And it’s just the fact that more mistakes get made."

    Ever since Kelly floated the idea of this interview to Jones, he has been manipulating her and NBC with near impunity. As BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel wrote, “Jones has been in control of Kelly’s interview and delighting his audience every step of the way. He broke the news of the interview on his show in late May; he was the first to post teaser photos of Kelly in the Infowars studio online; he got out in front of the interview last week with a misogynistic tirade about how he wasn’t attracted to Kelly and called her and the interview ‘fake news.’”

    This trolling comes at a cost. Search traffic for Jones is at a multiyear high:

    Julie Alderman and John Whitehouse contributed to this piece. Language has been updated for clarity.

  • Pro-Trump media push conspiracy theory that acting FBI director is a “ringleader” in plot to take down Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    An “alt-right”-affiliated outlet and fake news purveyors are pushing a highly dubious conspiracy theory from a fringe blog that acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is a “ringleader” in a plot against President Donald Trump.

    Big League Politics, a fringe blog founded by former Daily Caller writer Patrick Howley, cited an “inside source” to claim that McCabe was the “ringleader” behind a collaboration “against” Trump by McCabe, former FBI Director James Comey, and Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller. According to Howley, the source also called the three men “creatures of the swamp.” The blog also employs “alt-right” figure Cassandra Fairbanks, and it previously helped revive a fringe smear that Comey was biased in his investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server due to his brother’s supposed connections to the Clintons. The McCabe article has drawn slightly more than 100 Facebook engagements so far, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

    Soon after it was published, the report was picked up by “alt-right”-affiliated blog The Gateway Pundit, which wrote that the revelations showed that Mueller is “in bed” with McCabe and Comey, that the three are working to “undermine” Trump, and that McCabe is the “real treat” of this “swamp fiasco.” Though The Gateway Pundit regularly pushes false stories, Fox News and Trump have regularly cited its content, the White House has given its correspondent press credentials, and the site is currently trying to get congressional press credentials. The Gateway Pundit’s McCabe article has received at least 6,200 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo.

    Thanks to the Gateway Pundit article, fake news purveyors then spread this dubious claim. Before It’s News wrote that the report meant “FBI directors past and present apparently have it in for” Trump, and The Political Insider said that it showed “the deep state is preparing for war.” Mad World News and Washington Feed wrote that McCabe was “execut[ing]” Comey’s “treacherous” “backup plan” and that Trump needs to “get rid of” these “deep state hacks.” Freedom Daily called the report a “bombshell” that showed a “treasonous plot” that “shady” McCabe was “execut[ing]," and that Trump needed to “act quickly” to “get rid of” him. The Political Insider, Mad World News, and Freedom Daily articles have received at least 2,000, 1,600, and 5,500 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.

    The “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem pushing this dubious new charge has essentially been a propaganda machine for Trump, and the network continues to target Comey and Mueller as they become potential threats to the president. Mueller is leading the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election, and Comey has testified that he believes Trump fired him due to the probe. The new claim also comes as Trump tweeted that he is “being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director” and that he is the target of a “witch hunt.”

  • Days before Megyn Kelly interview airs, Alex Jones pushes more Sandy Hook conspiracy theories

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Just days before NBC is set to air an interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Megyn Kelly’s new show, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, Jones once again pushed several conspiracy theories about the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    Kelly and NBC’s decision to interview Jones has created a firestorm of controversy, with some family members of Sandy Hook victims calling for NBC to shelve the recorded interview given that Jones has pushed toxic conspiracy theories about the shooting that spurred some of his followers to harass the families. Page Six reported that following harsh criticism of the decision to give Jones a platform, Kelly invited Sandy Hook families to be interviewed for the episode as well.

    During the June 15 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones promoted several conspiracy theories that he and others have previously used to deny that the tragedy ever happened.

    Citing the U.S. government’s use of misinformation to justify wars in the Middle East, Jones said, “If they’ll do that, then am I supposed to question Sandy Hook when it happens and they’ve got the kids going in circles in and out of the building, and they don’t call the rescue helicopters, and then instead an hour later there’s port-a-potties and food being delivered and PR firms are there and Anderson Cooper says he’s on location but he’s clearly faking the location.”

    It should go without saying that Jones’ claims about the shooting that took 26 lives are false.

    On his show, Jones continued to lie about what he has said about the Sandy Hook tragedy in the past, saying he has “looked at every angle of” the shooting and claiming that he has said previously, “It could have been totally true, could have been totally fake.” (In recent months, Jones has repeatedly claimed he was merely playing “devil’s advocate” when commenting on the shooting.)

    As Media Matters documented, in the years following the tragedy, Jones definitively stated on several occasions that the shooting did not happen. In 2014, for example, Jones said, “It took me about a year with Sandy Hook to come to grips with the fact that the whole thing was fake.”

    Jones has been lying about his past comments on Sandy Hook since his statements started drawing heightened scrutiny following his claim after the 2016 election that President Donald Trump would soon appear on his show. (Trump appeared on Jones show in 2015 and praised the conspiracy theorist’s “amazing” reputation.)

    Kelly’s interview is set to air June 18 at 7 p.m. EST.

    Jones’ June 15 comments on Sandy Hook:

    ALEX JONES (HOST): It is a fact that on the eve of the Gulf War in 1990 a PR firm was hired, and the daughter of the owner of the PR firm, who’d never been to Kuwait and who spoke fluent English and had been brought up in the U.S., went and testified to seeing Iraqi soldiers ripping babies out of incubators and bashing their brains out by the hundreds. This was used as the pretext to launch that war that was meant to legitimize the U.N. as a global government body and bring in a new world order as George Herbert Walker Bush said, or Bush 41. Now, if criminal elements of our government will do something like that to launch now three wars in the Middle East, back radical jihadists to take over Iraq, Syria, Libya, other areas, overthrow our allies in Egypt, kill millions of people, starve millions more, and have Madeline Albright, Clinton’s secretary of state, say a half-million kids is an OK price to pay -- in fact, let’s cue that up. If they’ll do that, then am I supposed to question Sandy Hook when it happens and they’ve got the kids going in circles in and out of the building, and they don’t call the rescue helicopters, and then instead an hour later there’s port-a-potties and food being delivered and PR firms are there and Anderson Cooper says he’s on location but he’s clearly faking the location. We looked at every angle of that. And so they’ve now misrepresented what we’ve said, that I said it could have been totally true, could have been totally fake. I didn’t progenerate. I didn’t create. I wasn't the fount of that. The things that I am the fountain of, I’ll tell you. 1776 worldwide. Rebooting America. Nationalism.

  • 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.

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

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Later, the article noted:

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

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

    That was it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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