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  • On Fox's MediaBuzz, Joe Concha Dismisses Trump's Hostility To The Press: "He's Exercising His Right To Free Speech"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On the April 30 edition of Fox News’ MediaBuzz, The Hill’s Joe Concha asserted that, “Just because” President Donald Trump has been “criticizing reporters” throughout the 2016 campaign and into his presidency, “doesn’t mean” that Trump is “attacking the First Amendment … because he’s exercising his right to free speech.” Not only did Concha whitewash Trump’s hostile attitude towards the press throughout the 2016 campaign, which, at one point, led to an NBC reporter being harassed by the crowd at a Trump campaign rally, Concha also did not mention that, as president, Trump has repeatedly attacked the press more than 100 times over his first 100 days in office. Moreover, on the day of Concha’s comments defending the president’s stance toward the free press, Trump’s own chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said that the administration has “looked at” changing libel laws to curtail press freedom. From the April 30 edition of Fox News’ MediaBuzz:

    JOE CONCHA: I heard this a lot last night at the White House Correspondents Dinner, "the First Amendment is under attack." Here is what I'll say to that: Press briefings with Sean Spicer have never been more democratic. There are more voices in there than ever before, in terms of reporters, in terms of Skype. Journalists are still on Air Force One. Also, Trump is doing an enormous amount of interviews, not to mention he's tweeted 98 out of 100 times during his first 100 days in office -- 98 days out of 100. But this week alone, Howie, Trump has done interviews Washington PostNew York PostWashington ExaminerNew York Post, CBS News, Reuters, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Fox News. So, does that sounds like the First Amendment is under attack? Just because you criticize reporters doesn't mean you are attacking the First Amendment, actually it's the opposite, because he's exercising his right to free speech.

  • In 100 Days, Trump Has Attacked The Press Over 100 Times. Here’s How Fox News Cheered Him On.

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have been defined, in part, by his administration’s hostility to the press. As Media Matters has documented, Trump has attacked the press well over 100 times to date. As Trump vilifies the press, Fox News hosts, contributors, and guests help cheer him on by supporting, enabling, and condoning his attempts to discredit mainstream media outlets.

  • The Vindication Of Rachel Maddow

    Journalists Panned Her Report On Trump’s Tax Returns, But It Produced The Best Evidence Trump’s Tax Proposal Boosts His Own Bottom Line

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Under pressure to show some sign -- any sign -- that President Donald Trump’s administration hasn’t squandered its first 100 days in office, the White House yesterday released a one-page collection of bullet points billed as a tax plan.

    There are many unanswered questions relevant to the 200-word proposal -- among them whether the massive tax cuts it proposes, channeled mostly to corporations and the wealthy, would be temporary or permanent; whether the tax cuts would be paid for, and how; and how much the proposal would cost. Top administration officials making the rounds on the morning news shows say they don’t know how the plan would affect the budget deficit and can’t guarantee that it wouldn’t raise the taxes of the middle class.

    One thing seems clear, however: If this proposal becomes law, the Trump family will be the big winners.

    As The New York Times’ Neil Irwin noted after detailing the proposal:

    It is striking how many of the categories listed above affect the president and his family. He is a high-income earner. He receives income from 564 business entities, according to his financial disclosure form, and could take advantage of the low rate on ''pass-through'' companies. According to his leaked 2005 tax return, he paid an extra $31 million because of the alternative minimum tax that he seeks to eliminate. And his heirs could eventually enjoy his enormous assets tax-free.

    We don’t know precisely how much Trump will benefit from the policies he supports because he refuses to release his tax returns, breaking decades of precedent and taking a hammer to an important political norm that curbs political corruption. And so as Irwin demonstrates, Trump’s “leaked 2005 tax return” provides the best available evidence of the impact Trump’s proposal will have on his own wallet.

    For that, we have MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and The Daily Beast’s David Cay Johnston to thank. It is a vindication for Maddow in particular, who was widely criticized by political reporters for the way in which she revealed documents that none of them had been able to obtain.

    Six weeks ago, Maddow set the political world on fire with a single tweet issued fewer than 90 minutes before her show began:

    After journalists and political commentators spent nearly an hour burning up Twitter with theories about what precisely Maddow had uncovered, she revealed that her show was going to feature the president’s 1040 form from 2005, which Johnston had obtained.  

    When her show began, Maddow did not open with the contents of the document. Instead, she used her first segment to provide context, detailing the long saga of Trump’s unwillingness to reveal his tax returns and the evidence about his income that had been made public thus far. Only after returning from a commercial did she and Johnston reveal what they had learned: Trump had paid a mere $5.3 million in income taxes -- a rate of less than 4 percent on an income of more than $150 million -- but had to pay $31 million more under the alternative minimum tax, which he had proposed eliminating during the campaign.

    And the political press went wild. Not because they had learned new information about the president’s taxes that he had kept from the public in unprecedented fashion. Not because the tantalizing scraps that Maddow and Johnston had unveiled suggest that Trump’s interest in keeping his returns secret is at least in part because they reveal how much he would benefit from policies he supports.

    No, the press freaked out because reporters had to wait for 20 minutes on a weeknight and watch a cable news program to hear a scoop none of them had been able to get over the previous 20 months, and because the actual content of that scoop didn’t match whatever they were expecting.

    In real time, political media Twitter exploded with criticism for the MSNBC host. Afterward, the critique from journalists seemed to overwhelm the actual news the show had produced.

    Maddow had used “a windup that some fellow journalists, eager for any bombshells, found exceedingly lengthy,” according to the Times. She had “disappoint[ed] many in the political-media establishment with a report that was widely characterized as overhyped,” CNN reported. Her program was a “cynical, self-defeating spectacle.” She “bur[ied] the lede,” having “talked . . . and talked . . . and talked” for what “felt like an eternity.” She had made a “big-time blunder” and her “bombshell” had “fizzled.”

    Poynter.org chief media writer James Warren was one of Maddow’s few defenders on style, excoriating the press for its “mix of impatience and internet-fueled craving for instant gratification” in the face of a garden-variety effort by a media outlet to ensure the largest possible audience for its scoop. As to the revelation’s content, as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted, “The president wants to abolish the part of the tax code that stings him the hardest. In what news world is that not a bombshell?”

    With the White House’s release of a tax proposal that eliminates that part of the tax code, Maddow’s bombshell is more important than ever. But don’t expect to see apologies any time soon -- even news reports that detail how the 2005 1040 shows how Trump would benefit from the proposal don’t give Maddow any credit for unveiling it.

    This post has been updated for clarity.

    Images by Sarah Wasko.

  • Media Fall For And Reinforce Trump’s Spin On “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Multiple media outlets and figures uncritically reported on President Donald Trump’s planned executive order promoting policies that encourage the federal government to “buy American” and “hire American” wherever possible. These outlets and figures did not note that the executive order only calls for a review of current policy, and does not meaningfully change it, and some other outlets buried those crucial details in their reporting.

  • Trump Just Attacked Syria. Here Are The Pundits Who Said He Was A Dove.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    One week before the 2016 presidential election, Chris Matthews posed a question on his MSNBC program. Why, Matthews asked, was Donald Trump’s campaign so feckless? Why wasn’t he on the stump every day asking voters questions like, “Do you like this string of stupid wars from Iraq to Libya to Syria?” Such a strategy, Matthews suggested, would provide the country with a clear choice: If “you want to keep all this the way it is, vote for Hillary Clinton,” but voting for Trump would “shake the system to its roots.”

    Last night, Trump’s administration launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield in retaliation for the Syrian military’s reported murder of its citizens with chemical weapons. The strikes further enmesh the nation in a civil war with no easy solutions.

    By itself, the attack is the sort of “pinprick” that Republicans would likely scorn if it had been ordered by a Democratic president, threatening neither the survival of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime nor his ability to use such weapons in the future. If, as seems likely, this fails to change Assad’s behavior, it could lead to an unpredictable, escalating series of military actions against a close Russian strategic ally. There's little indication that the White House has considered the potential cost of that fight or who would lead Syria if Assad falls.

    It seems like Trump is leading us into what Matthews might call a “stupid war.” And that comes after escalations in U.S. uses of military force in Iraq and Yemen, both at the cost of civilian loss of life.

    To be clear, the argument that Trump was some sort of non-interventionist dove -- a dead letter since his ascendency to the presidency, especially in light of last night’s attack -- made no sense at the time.

    Trump supported U.S. military attacks on Iraq and Libya before he told the world he was against them. During the campaign, he said that we “have no choice” but to deploy tens of thousands of ground troops into Syria “to knock out ISIS,” backed military action against Iran, and refused to take using nuclear weapons in the Middle East and Europe off the table.

    Beyond the garden-variety, off-the-cuff calls for military force, Trump has explicitly supported using the armed forces for war crimes. For years, he has said that we should “take” Iraq’s oil as a way to “pay ourselves back” for the invasion. He promised to kill the families of terrorists in order to defeat ISIS. He said that he would bring back banned interrogation techniques because “torture works,” and “only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work,” and terrorists “deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing.”

    But somehow, as Trump and Clinton clinched their party’s nominations and the general election campaign began last spring, the political media’s savviest pundits were determined to cast the Republican as the race’s national security dove. By cherry-picking comments in which Trump presented himself as a foe of nation-building, misreading his attacks on bedrock U.S. foreign alliances as evidence of a coherent ideological framework, and ignoring his grotesque sabre-rattling and threats of violence, these journalists created a narrative that wandered far from reality.

    Trump has not “demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has,” New York Times White House correspondent Mark Landler reported on April 21. He “wants the United States to spend less to underwrite NATO and has talked about withdrawing the American security umbrella from Asia, even if that means Japan and South Korea would acquire nuclear weapons to defend themselves.” Thus, Landler concluded, the election could “present voters with an unfamiliar choice: a Democratic hawk versus a Republican reluctant warrior.”

    Over the next month, two of Landler’s colleagues expressed similar sentiments. Columnist Maureen Dowd declared that “On some foreign policy issues, the roles are reversed for the candidates and their parties. It’s Hillary the Hawk against Donald the Quasi-Dove.” According to Dowd, “Trump seems less macho than Hillary,” given that he “thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea” (that isn’t true).

    And Times senior editor of politics Carolyn Ryan struck a similar tone during an appearance on MSNBC, suggesting that Trump's foreign policy positions will "redraw the typical ideological lines."

    With the Times taking the lead, the accolades for Trump’s purported dovishness piled up over the following months. Trump’s “Republican isolationism” would “ground the drones.”  (Since taking office, Trump has actually sought to “make it easier for the CIA and the military to target terrorists with drone strikes, even if it means tolerating more civilian casualties.”) He could “be the military-industrial complex’s worst nightmare.” (He’s currently seeking a $54 billion increase in spending for the Defense Department.)

    “On more than one issue, GOP's Trump sounds like a Democrat,” the Associated Press reported May 15. On national defense, “the billionaire businessman could even find himself running to the left of Hillary Clinton.”

    Before the first 100 days of the Trump administration has ended, their isolationist dove has escalated U.S. fighting in at least three countries, with more trouble spots looming.

    Just don’t expect them to learn anything from the experience.

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko.
  • To Defend Bannon, Breitbart Has Opened Fire On The President's Son-In-Law

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Breitbart.com, the pro-Trump propaganda outlet previously run by White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is now being deployed against President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top White House staffer Jared Kushner as part of an internal power struggle.

    Over the past week -- as Kushner and Bannon have reportedly feuded -- the website has published articles highlighting Kushner’s meetings with the Russian ambassador, questioning the ethics of his business dealings, criticizing his “thin resume in diplomacy,” and speculating about whether he is leaking negative stories about Bannon.

    Those attacks represent a U-turn in the website’s coverage of the president’s family. Following Trump’s election and in the early days of his administration, Breitbart provided Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, with soft-focus celebrity coverage. The website chronicled their search for a home and synagogue in Washington, D.C., and lashed out at their critics.

    Kushner’s then-positive relationship with Bannon seems to have been a factor in Breitbart’s coverage -- in mid-February, the website aggregated a piece claiming that Kushner has “become a backer of chief strategist Steve Bannon’s nationalist-populist agenda” and that “Kushner has even proposed knocking down the walls between his and Bannon’s office, a sign of how close the two are.”

    But in recent days, the Kushner-Bannon relationship has reportedly soured. The New York Times and Politico both published April 5 stories detailing clashes between the two. The stories, which were driven by anonymous sources who seem to be part of Kushner’s camp, portray Kushner as deeply concerned with Bannon’s priorities and the way he “plays to the president’s worst impulses.”

    While Kushner seems to be using traditional media outlets to aid an internal fight with Bannon, the White House chief strategist’s defense has come from his former website. Breitbart -- which previously targeted White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan -- has trained its guns on the president’s son-in-law over the past week.

    Breitbart’s campaign against Kushner began with a March 28 aggregation of a Times article detailing how a Senate committee plans to question Kushner “concerning meetings he held with Russian officials close to the Kremlin, including an executive with Russia’s state-owned development bank.” The unbylined item stuck out at a website that has portrayed stories of ties between Russia and the White House as a conspiracy pushed by the so-called deep state.

    Two days later, Breitbart News Senior Editor-At-Large Peter Schweizer -- who also serves as president of a nonprofit that was until recently chaired by Bannon -- appeared on Breitbart’s SiriusXM radio show to criticize Kushner’s business dealings. Schweizer raised concerns that Kushner could use his role in the Trump administration to seek “sweetheart deals with foreign government entities,” calling the situation “worrisome.”

    Then on April 5 -- the same day the Times and Politico published their stories detailing Kushner’s burgeoning feud with Bannon -- Breitbart published four different stories attacking Kushner.

    One article detailed the “five surprisingly delicate problems” Trump has assigned Kushner -- including ending the Israel-Palestine dispute and destroying ISIS -- even though Kushner “boasts a thin resume in diplomacy.” The website also aggregated a column from the Times’ Frank Bruni making the same point. A third story highlighted Trump adviser and all-around-terrible-person Roger Stone’s theory that Kushner “is leaking negative stories” about Bannon. And Breitbart aggregated the Politico story on Kushner’s clashes with Bannon.

    Bannon still talks to staffers at Breitbart, though it's unclear if he asked for the attacks on Kushner or if his former employees knew to turn on his emerging rival without such a request. A “close Bannon ally outside of the White House” told Axios that following the Kushner camp’s attacks on Bannon, “I see some bad press in [Jared's] future." Bannon has reportedly told associates, "I love a gunfight."

    Breitbart’s attacks on its former boss’s White House rival come as the website seeks permanent congressional press credentials, a precursor to gaining access to the White House Correspondents’ Association and joining the White House press pool. The credentialing committee has raised concerns about Breitbart’s ties to Bannon and questioned whether the outlet is editorially independent of the White House.

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko.

  • Trump's Baseless Smear Of Susan Rice Follows Two Days Of Right-Wing Speculation

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump pushed a claim hyped by right-wing media that former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime and could face legal jeopardy for “unmasking” Trump associates caught in surveillance.

    On April 2, “alt-right” leader Mike Cernovich originally wrote that the White House Counsel’s office had “identified Rice as the person responsible for the unmasking [of Trump transition officials incidentally captured in legal surveillance] after examining Rice’s document log requests.” Cernovich’s post, which cited no other source for the claim other than the White House, noted that Rice would have been “authorized” to request that the names be unmasked, and did not claim she broke any laws. Cernovich’s post was amplified by fringe “alt-right” outlets, conservative media, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr.

    But some right-wing media figures, including Rush Limbaugh, have taken the still unconfirmed claim a step further, suggesting that Rice’s actions were illegal. However, that claim has been debunked by numerous national security experts who explained that nothing reported so far indicates that Rice violated the law, and that if she did unmask these officials, she would have been carrying out her duty as national security advisor. Former National Security Director Michael Hayden said it was “absolutely lawful. Even somewhat routine,” and, “There are very plausible, legitimate reasons why she would request such information.” Former CIA Acting Director John McLaughlin also defended Rice, saying, “she was doing her job. That’s what national security advisors are expected to do.”

    But Trump has now parroted the claim that Rice may have acted illegally, commenting on the issue in an April 5 interview with The New York Times. The president said “‘I think’” Rice had committed a crime "by seeking the identities of Trump associates who were mentioned on intercepted communications," adding that “‘it’s going to be the biggest story’” for “our country and the world.’” From the article:

    President Trump said on Wednesday that he thought that the former national security adviser Susan E. Rice may have committed a crime by seeking the identities of Trump associates who were mentioned on intercepted communications and that other Obama administration officials may also have been involved.

    “I think it’s going to be the biggest story,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office, declining repeated requests for evidence for his allegations or the names of other Obama administration officials. “It’s such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.”

    He declined to say if he had personally reviewed new intelligence to bolster his claim but pledged to explain himself “at the right time.”

    When asked if Ms. Rice, who has denied leaking the names of Trump associates under surveillance by United States intelligence agencies, had committed a crime, the president said, “Do I think? Yes, I think.”

  • Sunday Shows Whitewash Republicans' History Of Obstructionism

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    NBC’s Chuck Todd and Fox’s Chris Wallace failed to explain Republican senators’ unprecedented obstructionism of former President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees when discussing a 2013 rule change made by Senate Democrats to forbid the filibustering of judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared on the April 2 editions of NBC’s Meet the Press and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday and declared that President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, will be confirmed to the court. The hosts questioned McConnell on whether he would invoke the nuclear option -- a rule change that would eliminate the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees -- if the Democrats filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. Additionally, the hosts pointed out McConnell’s opposition to the rule change in 2013, which he now appears poised to use on behalf of Gorsuch:

    CHUCK TODD (HOST): Do you have the votes to change the rules among Republicans? Do you have all 52 Republicans ready to stand behind you, that if the Democrats filibuster Neil Gorsuch, you have the votes to change the rules?

    [...]

    TODD: You're somebody, though, that was very concerned when this rule was changed by Harry Reid for judges below Supreme Court. If you regret what Harry Reid did, why continue down this slippery slope?

    CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): You say that he’ll be confirmed one way or the other, so does that mean if you can’t stop a filibuster that you will go to the nuclear option and change the Senate rules so that you can cut off debate with 51 votes and confirm him?

    [...]

    WALLACE: Back in 2013, the Democrats invoked the nuclear option to allow a simple majority, 51 votes, on confirmation of lower court judges. At that time, you said that was a big mistake.

    Both Todd and Wallace failed to explain why Democrats changed the rule in 2013. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer explained later on Meet the Press, Senate Republicans “had been holding back on just about all of so many lower court judges, including the very important D.C. Circuit,” by refusing to allow votes on the nominees, so Democrats changed the rules to address the emergency and fill vacant seats. However, the Democrats left the filibuster intact for Supreme Court nominees.

    Republicans’ refusal to hold a vote on Obama’s nominees was unprecedented. In 2013, political science professor, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, calculated the level of Republican obstruction of Obama’s circuit court nominees and declared it “the highest that’s ever been recorded,” adding, “it approached total obstruction or delay.”

    Republicans continued their obstruction of Obama’s judicial nominees after they took control of the Senate following the 2014 elections. As Mother Jones reported in May 2016:

    Since taking control of the Senate in early 2015, Republicans have confirmed only 17 federal judges, a historically low number. The Senate confirmed just 11 judges in 2015, the fewest since 1960. There have been only two appellate court judges approved since Republicans took control, with seven appeals court nominations left pending. If the Senate doesn't confirm any appellate judges this year, it will have confirmed the fewest since the 1897-98 session, when there were just 25 circuit court judges nationwide, compared with 179 now. "Historically, we're in nearly unprecedented ground here," says Kyle Barry, director of justice programs at the liberal Alliance for Justice. "What's happening with Judge Garland is really part and parcel with how the Senate has been treating judicial nominees generally. The pace has been so historically bad, we've been seeing what amounts to outright obstruction."

    Senate Republicans obstructed until the very end of the Obama presidency. After the Mother Jones article was published, Republicans allowed the confirmation of only three district court judges. In total, the GOP Senate allowed just 20 confirmations -- two appellate judges and 18 district court judges -- during the 114th Congress. By comparison, during the 110th Congress -- the last session of Congress during the George W. Bush presidency -- a Democratic majority confirmed 68 nominations -- 10 appellate judges and 58 district court judges. And Republicans completely blocked Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, from having any public hearings or votes for 293 days.

    Todd and Wallace whitewashed history by not presenting the proper context for the debate over Gorsuch’s nomination and the possible implementation of the nuclear option.

  • As Senate Investigates Russia's Role In Proliferation Of Fake News, Fake News Purveyors Deny Any Trump-Russia Connection

    Many Fake News Purveyors Also Push Debunked Claim About Clinton And Russia

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    As the Senate Intelligence Committee holds a hearing on the role Russia played in trying to influence the 2016 election in favor of President Donald Trump -- and its use of fake news to do so -- fake news purveyors in recent days have been dismissing any possible connection between Trump and Russia. They are calling allegations about Trump’s connections to Russia “bogus,” “fake news,” and “slander[ous],” because there is “zero evidence” behind them. At the same time, many of them are pushing a debunked conspiracy theory that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while in office, gave 20 percent of American uranium to Russia in exchange for favors.

  • Right-Wing Media Misinterpret Weeks-Old Interview To Justify Trump’s Wiretap Lie

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Right-wing media figures and fringe outlets are taking a weeks-old interview with Evelyn Farkas, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia under President Barack Obama, out of context to claim she “admitted” that the Obama administration surveilled President Donald Trump’s campaign and that it proves Trump was right when he claimed Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. But Farkas did not mention surveillance in the interview; instead, she discussed a New York Times article about preserving intelligence related to Trump and Russia. The claims are yet another attempt by right-wing and fringe media to bolster Trump’s allegation that Obama wiretapped him, which the intelligence community and government officials have repeatedly debunked.