Megan Murphy: Trump's sexist treatment of Irish reporter "is offensive on every level" and "he owes her an apology"
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Legal experts and Trump’s attorney general agree it would be “improper and illegal”
Conservative media figures have repeatedly downplayed possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and the Russian government, suggesting that “it’s not a crime” to collude with a foreign government to influence U.S. elections. Legal experts and Trump’s own attorney general, however, agree that such collusion would be “improper and illegal.”
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During discussions of the health care bill released by Senate Republicans this week, several of the Sunday morning political talk shows failed to cover some of the detrimental consequences the bill could impose on millions of Americans, including premium increases for the elderly, cuts to essential health benefits, and the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
After drafting the bill with an “almost-unprecedented opacity,” Senate Republicans finally publicly introduced their health care proposal on June 22. The Senate draft comes over a month after the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) on May 4. While the June 25 editions of the Sunday shows devoted a significant amount of time to covering the bill, and all mentioned the severe cuts to Medicaid and the spike in premiums that would be a result of the legislation, several left out a few key provisions of the bill that are incredibly consequential to vulnerable Americans:
As HuffPost noted, the Senate bill “is worse for seniors than what the House passed,” pointing out that cuts to Medicaid, the “age tax” that allows for insurance companies to charge older people more, and smaller subsidies “puts vulnerable seniors smack in its crosshairs.”
The disproportionate impact the Senate bill would have on the elderly went unmentioned on Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union, and CBS’ Face the Nation. But this fact was mentioned on other programs. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pointed out on NBC’s Meet the Press that the Senate bill will “raise premiums for older workers.” Additionally, on ABC’s This Week, panelist Neera Tanden noted that under the law, “a 60-year-old person in Maine will have $9,200 increase in their premiums.”
The Atlantic explained that the Senate bill “created a backdoor way” to allow insurers “to discriminate against a pre-existing condition” by allowing states to “easily waive the requirement to cover Essential Health Benefits,” which exists under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). By waiving these essential health benefits, many people with pre-existing conditions might not be able to afford the health insurance necessary to be covered as premiums could skyrocket. As Vox’s Sarah Kliff also explained, although pre-existing condition coverage is still required, “Building a health insurance system without an individual mandate or any replacement policy runs a significant risk of falling into a death spiral, where only the sickest people buy coverage and premiums keep ticking upward.”
These points went unmentioned on State of the Union and This Week. Face the Nation host John Dickerson and Meet the Press host Chuck Todd both noted that under the Senate bill, Republicans could use this maneuver to cut coverage for things like mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and maternity care. Fox News Sunday host Brit Hume and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price mentioned pre-existing conditions only to incorrectly state that patients with pre-existing conditions would not be affected by the bill.
The Senate bill also includes a one-year freeze on federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Several states have defunded Planned Parenthood, which has led to an “exploding HIV outbreak” and problems for low-income women who were suddenly unable to find a health care provider.
Cuts to Planned Parenthood went unmentioned on Fox News Sunday and State of the Union. It was, however, mentioned in passing but with no real substantive conversation around the impacts by guests on Face the Nation and Meet the Press, while Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told This Week that cuts to Planned Parenthood may be one of the factors preventing her from voting for the bill.
Media Matters used SnapStream to search for the following on the June 25 editions of Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, NBC’s Meet the Press, and CBS’ Face the Nation:
Media Matters searched for mentions of “old” or “elderly” to code for mentions of premium increases the elderly would face under the Senate bill.
Media Matters searched for mentions of “condition” or “benefit” to code for mentions of cuts to essential health benefits in the Senate bill and impact on those with pre-existing conditions.
Media Matters searched for mentions of “Planned Parenthood” to code for mentions of cuts to Planned Parenthood in the Senate bill.
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Once again, cable news largely failed to present diverse voices when reporting on the ongoing health care debate, missing an opportunity, yet again, to inform audiences of the personal cost millions of Americans will incur if Republicans pass their bills into law.
Over six weeks after the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) on May 4, Senate Republicans finally publicly introduced their health care proposal on June 22. The Senate committee that drafted the bill was roundly criticized for its “almost-unprecedented opacity” and lack of diversity. Leading up to that introduction, cable news coverage of the bill didn’t fare much better. And when cable news did cover the bill prior to its release, the guests were almost always white men.
The day the Senate Republicans released the bill, cable news figures had an opportunity to redeem themselves. Sadly, they did not rise to the challenge:
It is necessary to include diverse voices in discussions about a bill with such dire consequences. African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, women and low-income people greatly benefited from the Affordable Care Act and stand to lose disproportionately if it is rolled back. Diversifying the discussion on cable news will help bring needed attention to the devastating harm that will occur if the Republican bills become law.
Fox & Friends' lack of journalistic standards: A story in 3 parts
Throughout the June 23 edition of Fox & Friends, the morning show hosts had to continuously walk back and correct a report in which they claimed that former FBI Director James Comey had visited The New York Times the night before. Fox & Friends’ initial incorrect reporting, which was eventually walked back through two follow-up segments, highlights the lack of journalistic standards on Fox News’ flagship morning show.
In the first report, Fox & Friends reporter Jillian Mele stated, “The New York Times gets a special visitor,” to which guest host Ed Henry replied, “Wonder what James Comey was doing at The New York Times. It’s so odd.”
JILLIAN MELE: The New York Times gets a special visitor. The Daily Mail got these pictures of former FBI Director James Comey stopping by their office in Manhattan. He reportedly spent three hours inside.
ED HENRY (CO-HOST): Wonder what James Comey was doing at The New York Times. It's so odd.
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Why would he go right in the front door?
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): I know. He’s not even trying to hide.
HENRY: He’s wearing sunglasses.
Fox & Friends began to backtrack in its second segment on the matter, noting that a spokesperson for The New York Times had stated that Comey hadn’t gone to the paper's offices, and admitting that Comey could have entered other offices within the New York Times building. The hosts semi-acknowledged that “there may be a law firm in that building that had some sort of event for abused children” that Comey actually attended. (Reporting from the previous night had pictures of Comey at that event.) The hosts, however, continued to cast doubt, stating, “We just don’t know.”
STEVE DOOCY: Well, yesterday, just about four blocks from where we’re sitting right now, somebody realized, hey, who’s that really tall guy going into The New York Times?
ED HENRY: I’ve seen him on TV.
DOOCY: He’s wearing sunglasses. There he is right there, he’s holding his coat. He’s going in with his wife, and he came out with his wife, and --
HENRY: It’s James Comey.
DOOCY: -- and sunglasses off. It's the former FBI director going into the New York Times building.
AINSLEY EARHARDT: Clearly didn't want to hide it. He’s going in the front door, not the even a back door. He was in there for three hours.
DOOCY: Yeah. The New York Times spokesperson says he did not visit the New York Times newsroom, however, there are other businesses in that building. Also, didn't go to the newsroom, could have gone to another part.
EARHARDT: It just doesn’t look good. After he admitted to leaking to his friends that work in, that are his journalist friends, it doesn't look good.
HENRY: There are reporters for The New York Times, we should say, who are tweeting last night and this morning that there may be a law firm in that building that had some sort of event for abused children and that James Comey and his wife may have been visiting them as a charitable thing. They were in there for a couple of hours. Whether they visited more than one office we simply don't know.
DOOCY: So, it would just be a coincidence that he also leaked stuff to somebody who leaked to them.
HENRY: Yeah, might be a coincidence, yeah.
EARHARDT: Could be a Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton thing. They talked about grandkids, but they were in the plane for a long time; he was in there for three hours.
HENRY: What kind of sunglasses to wear.
In the final report on this topic, hosts continued to walk back their own reporting and speculation, claiming that “now we’re learning more,” despite the fact the tweet they were referring to was sent the previous evening. Host Steve Doocy noted that “there was some speculation” that Comey was at the New York Times building to meet with reporters, failing to note that he and his co-hosts contributed to the speculation, but adding, “As it turns out, that is not the case.”
STEVE DOOCY: Speaking of talk, yesterday there was extremely tall man with glasses seen walking into the New York Times building.
ED HENRY: There he is.
DOOCY: Does that look familiar?
HENRY: That’s James Comey.
DOOCY: That is James Comey.
HENRY: He’s going into the New York Times building.
DOOCY: Three hours later there he comes out. There’s a great big story on Daily Mail about James Comey spotted at the New York Times building. We reported that this morning. We said that the New York Times spokesperson said that he did not visit the newsroom, and now we're learning more from, I think, Maggie Haberman at The New York Times -
HENRY: Yeah, saying he didn't visit the newsroom. A person close to him said that he and his wife went to a ceremony for CASA, at Covington & Burling, a major law firm, which is also in the New York Times building, and apparently that law firm was hosting some sort of charity event for abused kids. There’s some photos on Twitter of James Comey and his wife talking to those kids. Sounds like a wonderful cause. If that’s what he was doing, hats off to him.
DOOCY: Sure. And there was some speculation -- well, maybe he went to The New York Times because it wasn’t so long ago he gave that Columbia professor his notes so that they could leak it to the Times. As it turns out, that is not the case. He was there --
HENRY: Great if he was doing charity work. It does not erase the fact there’s been all kinds of leaks at The New York Times. Period, end of story.
The evolution and complete breakdown of Fox & Friends' initial reporting highlights the complete lack of journalistic standards on Fox’s morning show. Earlier this month, the hosts cited a story relying solely on “one of the online blogs.” The Fox & Friends hosts have consistently shown that they will report on a story without looking for the facts or truth behind the narrative they want to push; no one should take them at their word.
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As Senate Republicans unveil the draft of their health care proposal, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, media have already taken to framing the Senate GOP’s attempt at destroying the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as “more moderate” than a similar bill passed by the House last month. But comparing the Senate bill to the House bill whitewashes the portions of the proposal that are in fact at least as extreme as the previous one and the immense harm they would do to American people if this bill became law.
After drafting the bill with an “almost-unprecedented opacity,” Senate Republicans finally publicly introduced their health care proposal on June 22. The Senate draft comes over a month after the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) on May 4. Several reports on the Senate health care bill, however, are deceptively framed as they suggest that the bill is “more moderate” than its counterpart passed by the House. The New York Times wrote that the Senate version was “in some respects, more moderate than the House bill” because it offers “more financial assistance to some lower-income people to help them defray the rapidly rising cost of private health insurance.” USA Today speculated that if the Senate passes the bill, it would “likely to be more moderate than what the House passed.” Additionally, Fox News’ Peter Doocy stated the bill appeared “more moderate than the House version” because it would “let states that took more Medicaid money” under the ACA’s Medicaid expansion “keep more of it for longer than the House bill would.”
Calling the Senate bill “more moderate” than the House’s AHCA is a low bar and framing the Senate bill that way is deceptive. First of all, the House bill is nowhere close to moderate. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the AHCA would increase “the number of uninsured people relative to the number projected” under the ACA by 23 million by 2026. Additionally, under the AHCA, those with pre-existing conditions would be in jeopardy of losing coverage. At the very least, those with pre-existing conditions would face skyrocketing premiums. And those who want policies to cover essential health benefits, like maternity care and mental health and substance abuse services, are “likely to be priced out of the market,” according to NBC News. It would be hard to imagine a bill less moderate than the AHCA.
The Senate bill is largely a replica of the AHCA that also includes its own extreme measures. As NBC News reported, the Senate draft “makes deeper cuts” to Medicaid “in the long run” compared to the House bill. And according to the Center for American Progress, the Senate bill’s essential health benefit waivers would “erode or eliminate financial protections for about 27 million workers and their dependents,” including those who are in employer health care plans.
As Andy Slavitt, the former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, noted, “The Senate bill needs to be compared to current law, not the House bill.” People will die if this bill becomes law. That’s the context reporters should be using when discussing this new proposal.
The Trump supporter puts an intellectual shine on partisan hackery
“It is hard work to read widely and broadly, and on both sides of the political aisle,” conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt wrote in a July 2014 explanation of why he had decided to, in his words, “embarrass” a young Huffington Post journalist during an interview on his radio show by quizzing him about what books he had read about the war on terror. “Time consuming. Not very fun actually. But necessary. If you intend to be taken seriously. More importantly, if you intend the country to endure.”
Since then, NBC hired Hewitt as a political analyst, The Washington Post brought him on as a contributing columnist, and MSNBC has now announced that it is handing Hewitt a weekly show airing on Saturday mornings. These media outlets fell for the idea that he is a different type of conservative talker, the “antidote” to “bombastic personalities” like Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. In reality, his actions during the 2016 presidential election campaign and the early months of the Trump administration have showed that he simply puts an intellectual gloss on their same brand of partisan hackery.
In recent weeks, while pundits who share Hewitt's reputation for erudition have castigated the president as dangerously unlearned and incurious, Hewitt has instead stood alongside the president's media sycophants, laying down cover fire for Trump. Hewitt supported Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating his campaign's connections to the Russian government; he downplayed reports that Trump had revealed highly classified information in a meeting with Russian officials; after numerous outlets reported that Comey had kept notes of a meeting with Trump in which the president suggested he halt an investigation into a Trump aide, Hewitt's focus was on whether Comey, not Trump, had behaved appropriately.
A breakout media star of the campaign, Hewitt garnered numerous glowing profiles stressing his intellectual heft and curiosity: the “necessary bookshelf” of national security tomes he promotes on this website; how he opens interviews by asking his guests if they know who Alger Hiss is and have read Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Tower*; his friends on all sides of the political debate; his regular interviews of prominent mainstream journalists; his experience in politics, law, and academia; and in particular the way those features make him distinct from other conservative radio and cable news hosts.
But Hewitt set aside his concern for the life of the mind and voted for Donald Trump for president, a man of manifest ignorance and intellectual laziness who is unaware of basic historical facts and legal principles, uninterested in policy nuance or detail. As Hewitt had noted in demolishing a 31-year-old journalist, it is “hard work to read widely,” and Trump never bothered to try -- it seems plausible he has read fewer books as an adult than he is credited with writing. Asked to name the last book he had read in an interview last May, Trump commented, “I read passages. I read -- I read areas, I read chapters. I just -- I don't have the time."
For Hewitt, reading widely was necessary to credibly comment on foreign policy, but not to make it.
Hewitt, who remained neutral during the Republican presidential primary, frequently provided Trump with friendly access to his audience; he was “the very best interview in America,” according to the host. In none of those interviews with a man who was seeking to be the potential next leader of the free world was Hewitt nearly as aggressive as he had been in his interview with a young Huffington Post reporter.**
In their first interview, in February 2015, Trump acknowledged that he hadn’t read The Looming Tower, couldn’t name any works of fiction that he’d read, and admitted that he could not speak about nuclear submarines in any real detail (“I just know this. Military is very important to me.”). None of this seemed to strike Hewitt as a problem.
Hewitt could perhaps be forgiven for not going after Trump with guns blazing at that time, before Trump had announced he was running for president, when many commentators thought that his potential run was a joke. But as the months passed and Trump became and remained the Republican front-runner, Hewitt never pivoted to consistently scrutinizing Trump’s intellectual stature.
Hewitt drew attention and praise for their seventh interview in September 2015. Saying that he was finally going to give the Republican front-runner “commander in chief questions,” the radio host quizzed Trump about major terrorist leaders and international events. “I’m looking for the next commander-in-chief, to know who Hassan Nasrallah is, and Zawahiri, and al-Julani, and al-Baghdadi. Do you know the players without a scorecard, yet, Donald Trump?” Hewitt asks at one point. “No, you know, I’ll tell you honestly, I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone,” Trump replied.
Commentators praised Hewitt for having “stumped” and “tripped up” Trump. Hewitt himself takes issue with those characterizations, and indeed, if you review the interview transcript, you’ll find Hewitt repeatedly bringing Trump back from the ledge that the candidate’s ignorance put him on.
Hewitt let Trump get away with saying it was appropriate for him not to learn about foreign policy issues until he’s elected and claiming that he wasn’t willing to talk about hypotheticals because he didn’t “want the other side to know” what he would do. At one point Trump openly rejected the entire premise of Hewitt’s purported worldview, saying that because he’s a “delegator” who hires “great people” it’s “ridiculous” to ask him specific questions about prominent figures and world events.
Following the interview, as pundits criticized Trump for his performance, the candidate lashed out at Hewitt as a “third-rate radio announcer.” After initially defending his own performance, Hewitt said that it was his fault that Trump had "misunderstood" his question.
Trump's criticism got results, as the host adjusted his interview style to get back on Trump’s good side. Hewitt interviewed Trump eight more times over the course of the presidential campaign. He never again asked Trump a question intended to demonstrate whether the candidate had specific knowledge, instead focusing on open-ended foreign policy hypotheticals, process questions, and softballs about Clinton’s alleged misdeeds.
In the end, the erudite Hewitt, who cast aspersions at a reporter for commenting on foreign policy without first reading the right books, ended up supporting Trump just as Limbaugh and Hannity did, and for much the same reasons. In the end, Hewitt was a partisan, towing the Republican line and supporting the party’s nominee in spite of Trump’s manifest ignorance.
“Of course I am voting for Donald Trump. You should be too if you are a conservative,” Hewitt wrote in July. His case was a raw appeal to the need to ensure that Republicans gained access to the levers of power. Conservative dominance of the U.S. Supreme Court outweighed all other factors, according to Hewitt; his other arguments included the claim that “Hillary Clinton is thoroughly compromised by the Russians,” that Trump will appoint conservatives to positions of power, and that he definitely really “isn’t a racist, or a dangerous demagogue, a Mussolini-in-waiting, a Caesar off-stage.”
When Hewitt did speak out against Trump -- at times even calling for the Republican National Committee to take action to prevent him from being nominated and urging the nominee to drop out -- his argument was again partisan: that Trump should be replaced because he could not win. Trump was on the ticket on Election Day, and so Hewitt voted for him.
This sort of naked partisanship -- the belief that one’s party is better for the country than the alternative, and thus should be supported as long as its candidate can meet some bare minimum standard (“isn’t a racist, or a dangerous demagogue”) -- is a defensible position. But it’s certainly not the position one would expect from someone with Hewitt’s exalted reputation, especially with that bare minimum very much in question.
Trump’s rise was a revelatory moment that separated out the conservative commentators who had a political principle beyond ensuring the Republican Party gained power from those who did not. Several of Hewitt’s colleagues who are similarly regarded as intellectuals distinguished themselves by condemning Trump, saying that they could not in good conscience support someone with his history of ignorance, bigotry, vulgarity, and demagoguery. Hewitt failed this test, in a manner that clashes with the story Hewitt tells about himself, and the one that others tell about him.
Since Trump clinched the Republican nomination, some in the conservative press have blamed right-wing commentators like Limbaugh and Hannity for being willing to set aside principles and carry water for the candidate. But that behavior was completely in character for the right-wing talk radio hosts, who have long served as standard bearers of the Republican Party.
While his megaphone is much smaller than those of Limbaugh and Hannity, Hewitt presents a bigger problem for the conservative movement. He was one of the few with a reputation as an intellectual force who was willing to sacrifice his principles to back the GOP nominee -- and was rewarded with new posts at The Washington Post and MSNBC as an in-house Trump supporter.
Like other pro-Trump pundits, Hewitt is regularly called upon to defend the indefensible, and he frequently rises to the challenge. His recent missives at the Post include columns headlined "It's time to relax about Trump," "Stop the Trump hysteria," and "Trump’s first 100 days give conservatives a lot to celebrate."
But unlike the Jeffrey Lords and Kayleigh McEnanys, and perhaps because of his strong relationships with mainstream journalists and pundits, Hewitt has largely managed to keep his reputation intact. He doesn’t deserve to.
“I would not go through life ignorant of key facts, especially important facts. So many of the people writing under bylines are willing to do just the opposite today,” Hewitt concluded in his essay about why he embarrasses journalists. “It cannot end well when a free people are choosing leaders based upon the reporting of a class of people both biased and blind as well as wholly unaware of both or if aware, unwilling to work at getting smart enough to do their jobs well.”
Fair enough. But surely it also “cannot end well” when the leaders we choose are also “unwilling to work at getting smart.” That is, perhaps, a key fact of which Hewitt remains ignorant.
Hewitt got his Supreme Court justice. All it cost him was his dignity.
Shelby Jamerson provided additional research. Images by Sarah Wasko.
*Hewitt says he asks about Hiss “because the answer provides a baseline as to the journalist’s grasp of both modern American political history and to a crucial fault-line through it,” and about The Looming Tower because “It is almost journalistic malpractice to opine on any aspect of the West’s conflict with Islamist radicalism without having read Wright’s work, which won the Pulitzer Prize and which is the standard text.” For the record, the author knows who Hiss is, believes the evidentiary record supports the conclusion that he was a Soviet spy, and has read The Looming Tower.
** Hewitt has interviewed Trump 15 times during the campaign, for the following editions of his radio show: February 25, 2015; June 22, 2015; August 3, 2015; August 12, 2015; August 26, 2015; August 29, 2015; September 3, 2015; September 21, 2015; October 22, 2015; November 5, 2015; December 1, 2015; February 4, 2016; February 22, 2016; June 23, 2016; and August 11, 2016.