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  • CNN doesn't tell viewers its analyst who urged a military strike against Iran is a lobbyist for defense contractors

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During CNN’s “breaking news” coverage of the conflict between the United States and Iran, CNN political commentator David Urban advocated for a missile strike against Iran, claiming that “the Iranian government has to be checked” and that there needs to be “retribution” for its alleged actions against the United States. The network didn’t disclose to viewers that Urban is a lobbyist for numerous defense contractors.

    Urban appeared on the June 20 edition of CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper, where he advocated for striking Iran with a missile:

    DAVID URBAN (CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR): I think the president is trying to give himself and others a way out. And, you know, unfortunately, I think that there's going to have to be some response -- a measured response. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that there’d be some sort of a Tomahawk missile strike on the site that launched this, right, it’s a very limited response, to the missiles that struck this, and not very escalating to put a Tomahawk missile in a 3-by-3 window and, you know, mitigate the damage it’s done and it’s an appropriate response and I think would be met with, you know, I don't want to say met with approval from our allies and around the world, but the Iranian government has to be checked. You can’t be looking to, you know, block the Strait of Hormuz and now downing a U.S. military aircraft, which is in international airspace, without any type of retribution.

    CNN, Urban, and host Jake Tapper didn’t disclose during the segment that Urban has extensive financial ties to military contractors.

    In addition to working for CNN, Urban is the president of American Continental Group (ACG). The company states on its website that its “defense and homeland security practices draw on years of experience working at the highest levels of the legislative branch and the federal appropriations process. We help our clients understand the nuances of the system, make sure they have a chance to make their voices heard, and secure favorable legislative outcomes on their behalf.”

    ACG lobbies on behalf of numerous defense-related clients, including for defense contractors General Dynamics, Honeywell International, ​Kaman Corp., ​MAG DC Corp., and ​Textron Inc., according to a search of federal lobbying records. Urban personally lobbies for those previously mentioned companies, according to ACG's filings.  

    CNN did not respond to a request for comment.

    Media Matters has previously documented problems with CNN failing to adequately disclose the lobbying or consulting ties of its on-air commentators, including regarding Urban on The Lead. The Washington Post also recently posted a pro-Iran strike op-ed by Michael G. Vickers without disclosing that he serves on the board of directors for defense contractor BAE Systems.

  • Trump EPA claims new power plant rule would improve health of minority and low-income communities. Don't believe it.

    Media are missing the environmental justice story behind Trump's Affordable Clean Energy rule

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On June 19, the Trump administration announced that it was officially replacing the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's 2015 policy for curbing carbon pollution from power plants, with a much weaker Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. The text of the new rule claims that it will “improve environmental justice communities’ health,” but recently published research found that in many states it could actually lead to increases in air pollution, which would have especially negative health effects on communities of color and low-income populations.

    The ACE rollout is a major environmental justice story, but that's being missed by most media outlets.

    Trump's power plant rule could increase air pollution in many states, hurting vulnerable communities

    The text of the ACE rule says it is not expected to have notable negative effects on minority and low-income communities, and in fact, it will have positive ones:

    The EPA believes that this action is unlikely to have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations, low-income populations and/or indigenous peoples ... The EPA believes that this action will achieve CO2 emission reductions resulting from implementation of these final guidelines, as well as ozone and PM2.5 emission reductions as a cobenefit, and will further improve environmental justice communities’ health as discussed in the [regulatory impact analysis].

    But recent scientific research calls this claim into question. A study published earlier this year by scientists from Harvard, Boston University, and other institutions found that the ACE rule could lead to increased emissions of the air pollutants sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in about 20 states. As E&E News explained when the study was released, “The proposed Affordable Clean Energy rule’s focus on cutting emissions through efficiency improvements could cause emissions to increase at 28 percent of regulated power plants, as more efficient plants run more frequently and states delay retirement of older, dirtier plants, according to the study.”

    At least one Trump official has acknowledged this. “A senior administration official … confirmed Wednesday that some plants may end up emitting more pollutants under the rule,” The Washington Post reported last week.

    The health effects could be notable, as study co-author Jonathan Buonocore told E&E: “These pollutants contribute to PM 2.5 [fine particles] and ozone, with health effects including increased risk of premature death, respiratory disease, heart attack and some neuro-cognitive diseases as well.” Fine particulate pollution is linked to tens of thousands of premature deaths in the U.S. each year, according to a separate study released this spring.

    When the ACE rule was proposed in August 2018, the EPA's own analysis estimated that it would result in 470 to 1,400 additional premature deaths a year by 2030 because of increased fine particulate pollution compared to expected pollution levels under Obama's Clean Power Plan.

    The negative ramifications of the ACE rule are likely to fall especially hard on vulnerable populations, as a disproportionate amount of harmful health effects from air pollution occur in low-income communities and communities of color. Last year, EPA scientists published a study that found that people of color in the U.S. are exposed to more air pollution than white people, with African Americans exposed to the most. A number of other studies have documented the outsized and negative health effects of air pollution on minority and low-income communities.

    The Trump administration argued that Obama's Clean Power Plan would have hurt people of color

    When the Trump EPA first proposed replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with the ACE rule last August, it tried to paint the policy shift as good for communities of color by arguing that the Clean Power Plan would have hurt them.

    Draft administration talking points from the release of the ACE proposal cited a thoroughly debunked and discredited 2015 study from an industry-funded front group, the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), to claim that the Clean Power Plan “would increase Black poverty by 23 percent and Hispanic poverty by 26 percent” and would result in “cumulative job losses of 7 million for Blacks and nearly 12 million for Hispanics in 2035.” 

    The NBCC study's numerous flaws were exposed by the Union of Concerned Scientists, while flaws in other reports that the NBCC study had relied on were explained by PolitiFact, The Washington Post (twice), and the Union of Concerned Scientists again.

    Environmental justice advocates rejected the NBCC's claims. As Jalonne L. White-Newsome, then of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, wrote in 2015 after Obama's Clean Power Plan was finalized, “Despite continuous rhetoric from the Koch brothers’ network, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and others claiming that the CPP would hurt minority communities, we knew that if the final plan were crafted with equity in mind, it could be a huge win for low-income communities and communities of color.” She and other activists worked with Obama's EPA to create a plan that took environmental justice seriously.

    Environmental justice advocates blasted the Trump EPA's ACE power plant rule

    Proponents of environmental justice have consistently rejected the Trump administration's moves to repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with the ACE rule.

    Alice Kaswan, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and an expert on environmental justice, critiqued the draft ACE rule after it was released last year:

    Ultimately, EPA's proposal fails to grapple with what matters to disadvantaged communities. Energy justice implicates not only the monthly bill, but access to new technologies, relief from pollution and its health consequences, and participation in a cleaner energy economy. The narrowly focused ACE fails to facilitate a clean energy transition that could benefit all Americans.

    And last week, GreenLatinos President & CEO Mark Magaña denounced the Trump administration's finalization of ACE:

    There is a good chance that those lives lost will come from Latinx or African American communities. The risks are too high when our communities are more exposed to air pollutants than white communities. We already know that Latinx children are 40% more likely to die from asthma than non-Latinx white children.

    By rolling back the Clean Power Plan, the EPA continues to abdicate its mission to protect human and environmental health. Instead, it works on behalf of the fossil fuel barons who have made deep inroads into the upper echelons of the Trump administration. In the end, the Affordable Clean Energy rule will increase the risks from climate change for everyone and particularly harm vulnerable communities around the country. That's a story media outlets ought to be telling.

  • Tucker Carlson’s insipid accusation of anti-Trump “collusion” by The New York Times

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservatives have spent several decades waging a remarkably successful campaign to reinforce their coalition by turning it against the mainstream news media, a potential source of critical information. Fox News benefited greatly from this endeavor, assembling a sizable audience in part by convincing viewers that mainstream outlets could not be trusted as their journalists were deceitful leftist partisans. The resulting feedback loop requires a steady flow of new outrages that are often based on either appalling ignorance of or deliberate disinformation regarding basic journalistic practices.

    Fox host Tucker Carlson’s attempt last week to rile up his viewers with a nonsensical argument that The New York Times had colluded with the FBI appears to fall in the latter category, an intentional effort to hoodwink his audience and bolster his network’s hate campaign against the press.

    On Thursday, the conservative newspaper The Washington Examiner reported that Times reporter Michael Schmidt had “fed information” to the FBI in a March 2017 email regarding a story his colleagues were working on about the bureau’s Russia investigation. The Examiner obtained the email from the pro-Trump organization Judicial Watch, which called it evidence of “FBI-Media Collusion.”

    This argument made no sense: The “information” Schmidt supposedly “fed” the FBI was about the agency’s own investigation; the journalist emailed a press aide at the FBI, so a request for comment was implied if not stated; and the information in the email was published in the Times days later. Reporters at the Times and other outlets pummeled the Examiner for scandalizing routine journalistic processes, and the paper eventually published a lengthy correction in which it apologized for failing to adhere to its “normal standards and procedures.”

    But before the Examiner effectively retracted the sinister implications in its story, Carlson amplified it to his audience of millions.

    The Fox host argued that Schmidt had been caught engaging in “profound collusion” with, and “political consulting” for, the FBI, saying, “Schmidt wasn't seeking comment for a story; he was only supplying information. He was the source, in other words.”

    “The Schmidt kid just seems like a total lackey” for the bureau, Carlson told Mollie Hemingway, a Fox contributor and right-wing media critic. “I mean, so why does he get to call himself a reporter? If he is calling to pass information on to the FBI, doesn't that make him -- I don't know what it makes him. A source? A snitch? But it doesn't make him a reporter, does it?”

    He did not return to the story on Friday and let his audience know that the Examiner had effectively retracted it, apparently preferring to keep his viewers misinformed.

    Carlson wasn’t the only Fox host to push this nonsense. Sean Hannity, the co-hosts of Fox & Friends, and Lou Dobbs Tonight guest host David Asman all promoted the story, with the latter two drawing the attention of President Donald Trump, an inveterate Fox watcher who treats journalists as a hate object and constantly tries to delegitimize the press. “This shows the kind of unprecedented hatred I have been putting up with for years with this Crooked newspaper,” he tweeted in response to a clip from Carlson’s show that re-aired on Fox & Friends. “Is what they have done legal?”

    Carlson knows exactly what he’s doing. Unlike his fellow Fox prime-time hosts, he has actual experience in journalism outside the comfortable confines of the right-wing echo chamber. Carlson’s two-and-a-half-decade career in the news media includes stints writing for local newspapers and national magazines, and hosting programs at PBS, CNN, and MSNBC. That resume informed Carlson’s famous 2009 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he begged conservatives to create their own reporting institutions whose “primary objective” should be to “deliver accurate news” -- holding up the Times as an exemplar (the audience responded with jeers and boos).

    Carlson’s experience suggests that when he tries to spin basic acts of journalism into nonsensical conspiracy theories, he’s engaging in a campaign of deliberate disinformation. And his bad-faith argument of sinister “collusion” between journalists and the administration becomes a farcical masterpiece when held up to the actions of Carlson and his network, which has effectively merged with Trump’s White House and become a state media outlet.

    The last week alone, amid Carlson’s criticism of Schmidt for acting as a “lackey” and a “snitch,” brought several fresh examples of Fox’s perverse alignment with the Trump administration.

    The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that Carlson had been privately counseling Trump on how to respond to rising tensions with Iran.

    On Friday, a judge unsealed months of chummy text messages between Hannity and former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. Among the revelations from the 56 pages of chat logs, the Fox host shared information with Manafort and described them as being “on the same team,” while Manafort suggested possible lines of attack Hannity could use on his show and said he deserved a Pulitzer prize.

    And The Washington Post reported Sunday that in 2016, inveterate Trump sycophant Jeanine Pirro learned that Trump aide Roger Stone, scheduled to appear that night on her Fox show, was planning to resign in protest of the then-presidential candidate’s disgusting sexist attack on then-Fox host Megyn Kelly. According to the Post, Pirro “got word back to” Trump, allowing him to save face by firing Stone before he could quit.

    None of these revelations, which would likely sink an employee at any other network, are likely to spur concern at Fox over the excessively cozy ties between its employees and the president. After all, when Pirro and Hannity spoke at a Trump political rally last year, Fox offered no apology or promise that the behavior -- an ethical calamity anywhere else -- would not be repeated.

    Meanwhile, the network’s attacks on other journalists will continue. Fox media criticism is based on denouncing the press by falsely attributing to real journalists the unethical behavior its own hosts practice. That’s simply part of its business model.

  • Wash. Post fails to disclose that op-ed writer advocating military strikes against Iran is on the board of a major defense contractor

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Washington Post published an op-ed on Friday by former Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael G. Vickers in which he called for “limited U.S. military strikes” against Iran. But the newspaper failed to disclose that Vickers serves on the board of BAE Systems Inc., the American subsidiary of a major multinational defense contractor.

    BAE Systems published a press release in December 2015 saying that Vickers had “been appointed to its board of directors for a three-year term.” The company confirmed on June 24 that Vickers is still an active member of its board.

    But in Vickers' June 21 op-ed, the Post identified him only as “a former special forces officer and CIA operations officer” who “served as assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities (2007-2011) and undersecretary of defense for intelligence (2011-2015).” In the column, Vickers urged President Donald Trump to authorize military strikes against Iran, writing, “The Trump administration should respond to these recent attacks with strikes of its own on Iranian and Houthi air-defense assets, offensive missile systems and Revolutionary Guard Corps bases. A measured but firm response is what is required.”

    This isn’t the first time the Post has had disclosure issues with authors writing for its opinion section. Previously, the newspaper repeatedly published articles by opinion writer Ed Rogers about issues of interest to his lobbying firm’s clients without disclosing his financial conflicts of interest.

  • Meet the Press let Trump lie about his family separations policy -- and then spread it further

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    NBC’s Meet the Press aired President Donald Trump’s prerecorded interview with Chuck Todd on Sunday, and -- as it has become the norm for Trump -- the interview featured a number of demonstrably false claims, some of which Todd seemed unable or unwilling to push back on.

    The most egregious lie, however, was one that Trump has told regularly: blaming former President Barack Obama for his own policy of separating immigrant families at the border while falsely taking credit for ending the practice; it's a lie that he and his cadre of media sycophants have repeated so often that multiple fact checks are available explaining that Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy first established the cruel practice.

    Todd not only let Trump’s demonstrably false claim go unchallenged while taping the interview, but he also didn’t provide any pushback while offering live commentary on June 23, days after the interview was recorded. Moreover, Meet the Press irresponsibly amplified and spread Trump’s lie by repeating it without context or pushback on Twitter while the show aired, an act of journalistic malpractice in which news outlets instead become “propaganda distribution systems.”

    Meet the Press amplified this lie without pushback despite that the interview was recorded days ago; this was not a real-time tweet gone awry.

    And it wasn’t the only lie the show helped Trump amplify this way. Meet the Press also tweeted out without any context Trump’s claim that impeachment would be “a very unfair thing because nothing I did was wrong,” failing to mention the number of reported impeachable acts Trump could be held accountable for.

    During the interview itself, Todd failed to pushback effectively on a number of other lies, and he declined to add context for his audiences while commenting on the interview when it aired. As CNN’s Daniel Dale pointed out, Trump also lied about voter fraud in California, and about the real amount of U.S. military sales to Saudi Arabia, and he mischaracterized the way he invoked WikiLeaks while campaigning for the presidency in 2016:

    It's no wonder that many found Todd's interview lacking.

    Meet the Press could have used the time between taping the interview and airing it to add factual context to Trump’s many lies. Its refusal to do so raises questions about the show’s commitment to putting informative, fact-finding journalism before access to the administration.

  • Major newspapers largely leave new report of sexual assault by Trump off their front pages

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    A new report of sexual assault committed by President Donald Trump has come to light, but several major newspapers didn’t find the story important enough to place on their front pages. 

    On June 21, journalist and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll wrote in The Cut that 23 years ago, Trump assaulted her in a department store dressing room. According to Carroll, Trump “lunge[d] at me, pushe[d] me against the wall, hitting my head quite badly, and [put] his mouth against my lips.” She wrote that he then pulled down her tights and assaulted her. Carroll told two close friends at the time, both of whom “still remember the incident clearly and confirmed their accounts to New York.”

    The next day, several major newspapers failed to report the story on their front pages, even though it is horrific, detailed, and extremely similar to the accounts of numerous other women. It also echoes comments Trump has made in the past, saying in 2005, “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

    The New York Times

    The Wall Street Journal

    Los Angeles Times

    Chicago Tribune

    By contrast, The Washington Post included the story on its front page:

  • NRA rallies support for Oregon state senator who threatened to shoot law enforcement

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    The National Rifle Association’s lobbying division urged its members to thank and support an Oregon state senator days after he threatened to shoot local law enforcement. The state police he was threatening had been sent to collect Republican legislators who are refusing to vote on a climate change bill.

    On June 19, Oregon Senate Republicans threatened a walkout rather than voting on a greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade bill. The legislature is set to adjourn on June 30, but Democratic Gov. Kate Brown responded by saying she will call a special session starting July 2 for a vote. Brown also said she might bring back gun safety and vaccination bills she previously tabled in order to broker a deal with Republicans after they walked out in May due to a different bill.

    In a statement, the governor said she is “prepared to use all resources and tools available to me as governor to ensure that Oregonians are being served by their leaders.” State police have now been deployed to find the Republican lawmakers and bring them back to the legislature, as they are authorized to do under state law.

    Republican state Sen. Brian Boquist responded by warning that law enforcement should “send bachelors and come heavily armed,” adding that “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.” The lawmaker later doubled down, saying his threat wasn’t “thinly veiled” and reiterating he is “not going to be arrested as a political prisoner in Oregon period.”

    On June 20, one day after Boquist made his threat, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA’s lobbying arm, put out a press release applauding Oregon Senate Republicans and urging its members to “thank them for fighting hard … and encourage them to stand strong.” Boquist was listed among Republican senators the NRA-ILA asked its supporters to contact and thank.

  • Here's what Trump’s Fox News cabinet wants him to do about Iran

    Most of Trump's Fox advisers support some sort of military strike

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ
    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump is getting divergent views from the trusted members of his Fox News cabinet about how to respond to rising tensions between the United States and Iran -- but almost all of them support some sort of military strike on Iranian targets.

    In recent months, an escalating pattern of tit-for-tat maneuvers has drawn the two nations closer to direct military confrontation. On Thursday night, in response to what the U.S. says was Iran downing an unmanned American surveillance drone in international waters, Trump reportedly ordered a retaliatory military strike on Iranian targets. He then reversed his decision while the operation was underway.

    Several senior administration officials, including national security adviser and former Fox News contributor John Bolton, a longtime Iran hawk, reportedly favored a military response. But top Pentagon officials (echoing many external national security experts) reportedly warned that even a limited U.S. military strike could trigger an Iranian escalation, leading to a wider conflagration that might spiral out of control.

    This reported divide among the president’s official advisers is being mirrored in the advice he is receiving through his television set. Fox’s hosts and guests are an important source of information for Trump, who watches hours of coverage each day and often tweets about segments that catch his eye, and their opinions can shape his worldview and actions.

    With one key exception, pro-Trump commentators at the network have mostly been recklessly arguing that the president should strike Iran and can do so without risking an escalation.

    Friday morning on Fox & Friends, the hosts differed on the wisdom of Trump calling off the strike the night before but broadly agreed that a military response was inevitable and could be achieved without risk.

    Co-host Brian Kilmeade was harshly critical of Trump throughout the broadcast, slamming what he depicted as the president’s lack of action in the face of one-sided Iranian aggression.

    “They blow up four tankers and we do nothing,” he argued. “When they blow up our drone that costs $130 million and we do nothing, we know it's not going to end there. So at some point, in the Middle East, no action looks like weakness, and weakness begets more attacks."

    Kilmeade scoffed at the notion of engaging in additional diplomacy with Iran, saying it “makes us look so weak” to do so at this point. He also claimed, “If it was President Obama, ... every Republican would be losing their mind. So I think people have to be consistent here and be concerned about America's image and our strength.”

    His co-hosts, Steve Doocy and Ainsley Earhardt, offered a much more charitable view of Trump’s reaction, effectively saying that they have faith that Trump knows what he’s doing and will respond in due time. “The president appears measured and reasonable in saying, ‘OK, you know what, before we do anything, we’re going to try to talk to them one last time,’” Doocy said.

    Pete Hegseth, a co-host of the program’s weekend edition who also privately advises Trump, staked out a middle ground during a guest appearance on the show. He argued that a military response was necessary and inevitable, saying, “The reason we have international waters and international air space in the world today is the United States Navy and the United States Air Force. If we allow our drones, manned or unmanned, to be shot down and we don’t respond, that’s going to create a world where those spaces are contested. You cannot allow this to happen. This is -- you got to strike back.”

    While Hegseth, unlike Kilmeade, avoided directly criticizing Trump’s response, he suggested that it would be a problem if Iran did not quickly improve its behavior and the president continued to avoid military action.

    While these Fox hosts and sometime Trump advisers were divided over how the president responded, they largely downplayed the possibility that a military strike could lead to a dangerous escalation.

    Meanwhile, Joey Jones, a retired Marine and guest on the program, told the hosts, “Listen, I deployed to Afghanistan, I deployed to Iraq. I don't want to see anyone deployed. I think if Iran provoked us to that point, it would be a pretty quick and easy war. I really do believe that.”

    Trump apparently tuned in to the network’s morning show Fox & Friends at least at some point on Friday morning, as he tweeted about a segment that ran in its 7 a.m. hour. He did not mention the program’s response to him calling off the Iran strike.

    On Thursday night, before the news broke that Trump had ordered and then called off a military response, Fox’s three prime-time hosts were similarly split over what the president should do.

    Sean Hannity, the network star who is also reportedly one of the president’s most influential advisers, was the most bellicose of the three, stressing that Trump “does not want war” and that a military strike would not risk one. “In coming days, we will know if the mullahs are smart enough to take the opportunity, which is a small window -- it may not even exist within five minutes,” he said. “Because if they don't, the president will have no choice. He will bomb the hell out of them.”

    “If they do not end this hostility, if they do not stop, the mullahs of Iran will feel pain, I predict, like never before,” he added. “And it will -- they will earn it. They will make it happen.”

    Like Hannity, Ingraham argued that Iran has engaged in “blatant provocation” and said she would support “a targeted show of force” if Trump believes it “can produce the intended deterrence.” But she was more forthright in warning against any wider war, saying Trump was elected in part because of his repudiation of the Bush administration’s hawkish foreign policy and so the U.S. “must be wary of doing anything that will draw us into another long-term conflict in the region.”

    Notably, Ingraham couched her opposition to a broader war in explicitly political terms, saying, “The only real obstacles that I see to Trump’s winning in 2020 are one, an economic collapse and two, a new American war. That risks Trump throwing in with the Bush war hawks and a repudiation of his own doctrine of principled realism in foreign policy.”

    By contrast, Tucker Carlson, who has reportedly counseled Trump directly on Iran, warned on Thursday’s program that any military strike could spiral out of control. “The same people who lured us into the Iraq quagmire 16 years ago are demanding a new war, this one with Iran,” he said, adding that Trump, “to his great credit, appears to be skeptical of this -- very skeptical.”

    Carlson slammed the “permanent foreign policy establishment in Washington” for criticizing Trump for not responding militarily to Iran. “None of these people will admit their actual intentions,” he said. “They'll tell you they don't really want to war with Iran. That's a crock. They want a war badly, badly enough to lie about it. That's why they're putting American troops into situations where conflict is inevitable in order to start a war.”

    So far, Carlson’s view seems to be carrying the day. But by its nature, the Fox-Trump feedback loop creates instability as the president is famously impulsive and can quickly change his mind based on input from the television. It’s unclear what the next few days will bring.

  • It’s time for a reckoning for journalists who boosted false narratives about Donald Trump’s LGBTQ policy positions

    Audiences were repeatedly told that he was pro-LGBTQ. He’s been nothing but a nightmare.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s an understatement to say that LGBTQ rights in the U.S. haven’t exactly flourished under President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

    Upon taking office, Trump and his team ordered the removal of references to LGBTQ issues from a number of federal websites. By the second month, the departments of Education and Justice had officially rescinded Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students from discrimination. Six months in, Trump shocked the country by casually tweeting his intention to reinstitute a ban on trans people in the military and having the DOJ issue an updated interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 saying it is legal to fire someone for being gay or trans.

    Those are just a few examples of the many, many anti-LGBTQ actions that Trump has carried out since taking office. According to GLAAD, an LGBTQ media watchdog group, the Trump administration has launched 114 attacks on LGBTQ people thus far. Some actions are petty but not actively harmful, such as not officially proclaiming June to be LGBTQ Pride Month while still extending that recognition to Great Outdoors Month, National Homeownership Month, and National Ocean Month. However, other actions could put lives at risk, such as the appointment of anti-LGBTQ lawyers to lifetime federal judgeships and issuing rules allowing discrimination against trans people in public housing and health care.

    Some media outlets seemed caught off guard by the barrage of anti-LGBTQ actions. They shouldn’t have been.

    Last month, The Washington Post reported that the candidate “who cast himself as pro-LGBT” had become the community’s “worst enemy” in the eyes of activists and allies. And the Post was far from alone in reporting that Trump’s recent actions are a departure from his pro-LGBTQ campaign -- a campaign that never actually existed. These reports place blame on Trump for failing to make good on promises he never made. The truth is that too much of the press ignored what he said he would actually do.

    To understand where the narrative suggesting that Trump would be a pro-LGBTQ president originated, look back to his April 21, 2016, appearance on NBC’s Today.

    Co-host Willie Geist asked the candidate a viewer question from Twitter about specific ways he would be LGBTQ-inclusive as president and about a recently enacted North Carolina law that legalized discrimination against trans people and banned them from many public restrooms. Trump responded by saying that the law wasn’t worth the “economic punishment” brought on by backlash. Then co-host Matt Lauer followed up, asking Trump a question about whether he’d “be fine” with trans TV personality Caitlyn Jenner using the women’s restroom in Trump Tower.

    “That is correct,” answered Trump.

    Nothing in Trump’s answers actually addressed how he would be “inclusive” of LGBTQ people as president. In talking about the North Carolina law, he said that he opposed it because it was hurting businesses, not because it was hurting the people actually being discriminated against. This position in itself is a sort of middle ground between government-mandated anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the position of the Obama administration, which was that anti-LGBTQ discrimination should be illegal. And it would still be a step backward for LGBTQ rights. On the topic of Caitlyn Jenner, it was already New York City law that she had to be allowed to use the women’s restroom; Trump being “fine” with that was as unspectacular as if he’d said he was “fine” with cars stopping at red lights.

    As unremarkable as they were, both answers earned Trump some quick praise from mainstream journalists.

    An April 22, 2016, article in The New York Times headlined “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P.” picked up where the Today interview left off. It cited a Trump blog post from a decade earlier congratulating Elton John and David Furnish on their civil partnership, his support for HIV/AIDS charities in the ’80s and ’90s, and his appearance alongside former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in a video in which Giuliani dressed in drag as evidence that Trump “is far more accepting of sexual minorities than his party’s leaders have been.” In contrast, Trump’s opposition to marriage equality and his “recent alliances with social conservatives such as Jerry Falwell Jr. and Pat Robertson” were treated as minor footnotes.

    That night on NBC Nightly News, correspondent Hallie Jackson said that “Trump is considered one of the more LGBT-friendly Republican candidates” and highlighted his Today Show comments. The April 24 edition of Meet The Press featured a segment on Trump’s Today Show comments and the reactions they provoked both from his primary challenger (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz released an ad saying that Trump wasn’t anti-trans enough) as well as his likely general election opponent (the Hillary Clinton campaign pointed to the Today Show comments as an example of Trump’s inconsistency). During that segment, a banner appeared on screen reading: “Trump Campaign: More Accepting On ‘Bathroom Laws.’”

    Trump got additional positive coverage on the topic after the Pulse shooting, his speech at the Republican National Convention, and a moment at a rally when he held a gay pride flag.

    On June 14, 2016, Trump tweeted, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.” The tweet was one of several empty platitudes Trump offered to LGBTQ Americans following the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, and at first glance, it might look like a sign of support. Upon closer reading, it’s clear that when he said “fight for you,” he wasn’t referring to fighting for LGBTQ civil rights at home. Instead, Trump’s statement used the community as yet another justification for his anti-Muslim immigration proposals. In his first speech following the Pulse attack, Trump claimed that he was a “friend of women and the LGBT community” because unlike Clinton, he would not “allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country,” saying “they enslave women, and murder gays.”

    In response, ABC’s Jonathan Karl called Trump “the most pro-gay rights Republican presidential candidate that we have ever seen.” Politico’s Kyle Cheney framed the bizarre, uncomfortable speech following the Pulse nightclub massacre as evidence of a pro-LGBTQ position, writing that Trump brought a “welcoming tone toward LGBT Americans” and that “in Trump, pro-gay rights Republicans see a new hope.”

    Trump won kudos again the following month during his speech at the Republican National Convention, when he said, “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” Again, this wasn’t a promise to support LGBTQ rights, but a promise to physically “protect” LGBTQ people from what he considered a “hateful foreign ideology” -- Islam.

    Following Trump’s convention speech, many mainstream journalists fell into the Trump-as-LGBTQ-ally trap, reinforcing the myth that he’d be good for LGBTQ people as a whole. Sometimes, as was the case in an Associated Press write-up headlined “Making GOP history, Trump vows to protect LGBTQ community,” important context (in this case, what he was suggesting when he said “protect”) was left out:

    With five letters, Donald Trump brushed off decades of Republican reluctance to voice full-throated support for gay rights — at least for a night.

    Trump’s call in his speech to the Republican National Convention for protecting the “LGBTQ community” was a watershed moment for the Republican Party — the first time the issue has been elevated in a GOP nomination address. Four years ago, Mitt Romney never uttered the word “gay,” much less the full acronym — standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning.

    But Trump, as if to drive the point home, said it not once, but twice.

    Nowhere in Trump’s convention speech -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- did he so much as mention “gay rights,” let alone “voice full-throated support” for them. You wouldn’t have gotten that impression from many journalists, though.

    Fox News’ John Roberts said Trump had “become a champion for the cause” of LGBTQ people. CBS News’ John Dickerson said, “It’s extraordinary the distance the Republican Party has traveled” on LGBTQ issues. On MSNBC, Mark Halperin said, “In the history of the Republican Party and gay rights, last night was one of the biggest days ever.”

    In October 2016, Trump stood on stage at a Colorado campaign stop and briefly held a Pride flag with the words “LGBTs for Trump” scrawled across the front, handed to him from the audience. While few would cite photos of Trump holding signs that say “Women for Trump” or “Blacks for Trump” as evidence that he would be good for women or people of color, the moment with the flag has been occasionally referenced as an example of his supposed support for LGBTQ people.

    All of this praise was based on a falsehood, and LGBTQ people are going to pay the price.

    One of the earliest signs that Trump would be an LGBTQ adversary came in December 2015, when the then-candidate went on record in support of the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would have codified a federal right to discriminate against LGBTQ people into law so long as it was done on the basis of one’s religious beliefs. The deceptively named bill was introduced that summer in response to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision as the best chance for anti-gay politicians to undermine the ruling’s effects at the federal level. If it had become law, it would have had devastating effects and wreaked havoc on state and local nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

    “If Congress considers the First Amendment Defense Act a priority, then I will do all I can to make sure it comes to my desk for signature and enactment,” Trump wrote in a response to the American Principles Project request that he make enacting FADA a priority within his hypothetical administration’s first 100 days. Though he stopped short of committing to it as his own priority, anti-LGBTQ activist Maggie Gallagher called his reply “big news and good news.”

    During the January 31, 2016, edition of Fox News’ Fox News Sunday, Trump reaffirmed that he still opposed marriage equality and would “strongly consider” appointing Supreme Court justices to reverse the court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, a decision establishing the right for same-sex couples to marry. The following month, during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, Trump was asked whether evangelicals could trust him on “traditional marriage,” to which he immediately responded, “I think they can trust me. They can trust me on traditional marriage.” On Twitter, Trump called Ted Cruz a “liar” for suggesting that he and Marco Rubio secretly supported marriage equality.

    In April 2016, on the same day as his Today appearance, he walked back his mild opposition to North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law during an interview on Hannity. Stunningly, the walk-back wasn’t included in the New York Times article or NBC News segments that followed, which lauded him for his more moderate position. By July, he had come out in full support of the law.

    Even his supposedly pro-LGBTQ convention speech was a sham. As Sean Spicer would later reveal in his post-White House memoir, the inclusion of any mention of LGBTQ people at all in Trump’s convention speech was a concession made to convince one Republican National Committee delegate to remove his name from a “Never Trump” petition. The truth is that the 2016 Republican Party platform released during the convention was called the “most overtly anti-LGBTQ platform in history” by the Human Rights Campaign. Even Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory T. Angelo echoed that message, adding, “Opposition to marriage equality, nonsense about bathrooms, an endorsement of the debunked psychological practice of ‘pray the gay away’ -- it's all in there.”

    Even if journalists didn’t see through the use of LGBTQ people as props in his speech to advance anti-immigration policies, it’s hard to understand how the narrative of Trump as an LGBTQ-inclusive candidate continued after he selected Mike Pence as his running mate and stood with the extremist policies outlined in the platform.

    Contrary to what the Times reported that April, there wasn’t any reason to believe anything “set him apart” in the Republican field. Sure, candidates like Cruz, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry were more overtly anti-LGBTQ, but practically speaking, they held nearly identical policy views. Even if there was space to argue that the other candidates were more clearly anti-LGBTQ than Trump, reporting that is misleading if it lacks the context that he’s still far from an ally.

    During an October 3, 2016, event with a veterans group, Trump was asked what he would do “about the social engineering and political correctness that’s been imposed upon our military,” a reference to Obama-era decisions around trans inclusion and women participating in combat.

    “We’re gonna get away from political correctness,” Trump responded. A Nexis search for TV news transcripts including the words “transgender” and “military” in the week following Trump’s statement turned up zero references to the comments.

    On July 26, 2017, he announced a ban on trans people serving “in any capacity in the U.S. military.” The decision appeared to come out of absolutely nowhere, but in fact, he was making good on a campaign promise.

    Trump has been a disaster for LGBTQ people in the U.S. As we approach the 2020 election, it is imperative that journalists shine an honest light on this issue.

    In May, the departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development announced new anti-trans policies and Axios reported on HHS’ intent to release a formal policy rolling back nondiscrimination rules in adoption, allowing federally funded adoption and foster agencies to refuse same-sex couples if they choose. Media Matters analyzed TV news coverage of these administration moves and found that during a 10-day period while these policies were being reported on, broadcast TV news networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and cable news network MSNBC made no mention of these changes. CNN and Fox News devoted minimal coverage to the topic. These are major policies that will affect the lives of millions of Americans, but they barely made a blip on the TV news radar. If you weren’t specifically looking for news on the state of LGBTQ rights, you may not be aware of just how many ways those protections have changed for the worse during Trump’s administration.

    An alarming number of headlines still get the issue completely wrong -- and that doesn’t bode well for 2020 coverage. A recent article in The New York Times about a May 31 Trump tweet was headlined “Trump’s Celebration of L.G.B.T. Rights Is Met With Criticism.” In fact, he did not offer any “celebration of LGBT rights” in his tweet. That tweet lauded “the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made to our great nation,” but it said nothing of legal rights or protections. Headlines overstating what was said or inferring messages not actually stated reflect a continuing naiveté in the press. Not only that, but the article itself advances one of the administration’s favorite falsehoods, quoting Kellyanne Conway as saying, “He’s the first president to start as president for approving of gay marriage.”

    In fact, a 60 Minutes interview people often point to when defending that comment simply features Trump saying marriage equality is settled law and that he’s “fine with that.” When specifically asked if he supported marriage equality, he responded that it was “irrelevant” what he thought. Those are not the words of someone who is “approving of gay marriage.”

    Based on sheer quantity of anti-LGBTQ policies and political appointments, Trump is, arguably, one of the worst presidents on LGBTQ rights in the country’s history. He may have no personal problem with gay people. He may say he’s “fine” with a gay person being married. He may sell “Pride”-themed merchandise on his website. He may collaborate with Peter Thiel or appoint Richard Grenell to an ambassadorship. He may even sputter out the letters “LGBTQ” from time to time. None of this has anything to do with LGBTQ civil rights or legal protections at home.

    After the Pulse attack in 2016, Trump said reporters should “ask the gays” about LGBTQ rights in majority-Muslim countries and whether his anti-Muslim policy proposals made him a friend of the community. As 2020 coverage gets going, news organizations should do exactly that: talk to the broader LGBTQ community.

    Yes, there will always be some gay and bisexual Trump supporters, some hard-core conservative trans people, and a handful of lesbian libertarians. Whenever the Trump administration takes action against the community, a common impulse is for journalists to seek these supporters out for comment. Rarely, however, are these the people hurt most by these individual policies, and giving them a disproportionately large platform only obscures the actual damage any given policy can cause. Their continued support for Trump and the Republican Party doesn’t cancel out what harm the party and its leader will do. Rather, their support is often just a sign that there are other issues they care about more than legal protections or civil rights. In other words, the existence of LGBTQ Trump supporters does not tell us anything about the administration’s hostility when it comes to policies specific to this community. Journalists must remember this.

    What Trump said in a 2000 interview or what charities he supported in the 1980s aren’t relevant to the lives of LGBTQ Americans. What matter are the policies being implemented, the judges appointed, and laws championed -- right now. A July 2016 Pew Research survey found that 40% of voters said LGBTQ issues were “very important” in determining who to vote for. By not informing the public about what Trump said he would do, the press failed. It’s time for journalists to accept that Trump was not nearly as pro-LGBTQ as he was made out to be in the press and to contemplate what role they played in building the myth that he ever was.