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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.
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“A senior FBI official assured outraged and embarrassed colleagues that the bureau would no longer use Gorka”
Donald Trump adviser, frequent Fox News guest, and former Breitbart editor Sebastian Gorka was fired by the FBI, who was paying him to give lectures on counterterrorism issues, due to “his over-the-top Islamophobic rhetoric.” Gorka, who has come under fire for being a “sworn member” of a “Nazi-allied” Hungarian group, has also defended claims that President Barack Obama was the “founder” of ISIS, blamed Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Pulse nightclub shooting, and blamed Obama for veteran suicides.
In a June 21 story, The Daily Beast reports the FBI “ended its contract with Gorka just months before he joined the White House as a senior adviser to President Trump.” Gorka was fired after he “told attendees at the Joint Terrorism Operations Course … that all Muslims adhere to sharia law, which he said is in conflict with the U.S. Constitution and American democratic values.” The Daily Beast reported that after these remarks, “a senior FBI official assured outraged and embarrassed colleagues that the bureau would no longer use Gorka for any subsequent lectures or instructions”:
The inflammatory pundit Sebastian Gorka worked for the FBI while he was a paid consultant to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, lecturing bureau employees on counterterrorism issues.
Until the FBI terminated Gorka for his over-the-top Islamophobic rhetoric.
The Daily Beast has learned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation ended its contract with Gorka just months before he joined the White House as a senior adviser to President Trump.
Gorka told attendees at the Joint Terrorism Operations Course, an introductory-level class for participants in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, that all Muslims adhere to sharia law, which he said is in conflict with the U.S. constitution and American democratic values. Officials familiar with his lecture said Gorka taught law-enforcement officials there is no such thing as mainstream Muslims—only those radicalized and those soon to be radicalized.
The following month, a senior FBI official assured outraged and embarrassed colleagues that the bureau would no longer use Gorka for any subsequent lectures or instructions, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Beast.
As Senate Republicans face mounting criticism for including almost exclusively white men in their working group on the upcoming health care bill, media aren’t doing much better when discussing the legislation. Like the GOP, media are relying on mainly white people, particularly men, for their analysis and reporting on the health care bill, even though the bill would reportedly have serious consequences for women and minorities.
Shortly after the House of Representatives passed its version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), Senate Republicans put together a working group to draft their own version of the legislation. The working group was roundly criticized for its lack of diversity. For instance, CNN’s Erin Burnett took issue with the all-male group, asking, “What can they realistically bring to the table when the conversation turns to, let’s just say, childbirth, maternity leave, ovarian cancer or breast cancer?” Likewise, Roll Call’s Patricia Murphy wrote that adding diverse voices to the group would allow people to “bring their own personal experiences to the debate,” noting that African-Americans have “a higher incidence of chronic disease” and are “more likely to require ongoing medical interventions over the course of their lives.”
Unfortunately, if people are hoping to hear a diverse group of people discussing the health care bill, media are of little help. A Media Matters analysis found that the people hosted on television to discuss the bill were disproportionately white men. Key findings include:
Of the 448 guest appearances* on prime-time cable news, broadcast morning and nightly news shows, and Sunday morning political shows, 392 appearances, or over 87 percent, were made by white guests.
During Fox News and CNN’s prime-time coverage of the health care bill, white guests made up over 90 percent of total guest appearances:
CBS hosted only white guests to discuss the bill during its morning and nightly news shows:
During Fox News Sunday and Meet the Press’s coverage of the health care bill, over 90 percent of appearances were made by white guests:
Of the 448 guest appearances* on prime-time cable news, broadcast news’ morning and nightly shows, and Sunday morning political shows, 299 were made by men, meaning two-thirds of the voices viewers heard were male.
During prime-time cable news, Fox News was the network that fared the worst on gender diversity:
During broadcast morning and nightly news shows, CBS was the only network to host more women than men to discuss the bill:
On the Sunday political shows, men outnumbered women 2-to-1, but some shows fared better than others. NBC’s Meet the Press was the closest to having equal representation, while ABC’s This Week had the highest gender imbalance:
Sadly, the groups that have been marginalized by Senate Republicans and television news have a lot to lose with the AHCA. As FamiliesUSA noted, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “greatly benefited Black communities, who are likely to disproportionately suffer the consequences of ACA repeal and the elimination of Medicaid as we know it” under the AHCA. And, as The Hill pointed out, “Hispanics benefited more than any other group from the Affordable Care Act,” and under the AHCA, “Many Hispanic leaders are worried their communities could be forced out of coverage and back into emergency rooms for primary care.” Additionally, groups fighting for the rights of Asian Americans have condemned the AHCA for the harm it would cause.
Women also have much to lose if the AHCA passes the Senate. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, cuts to Medicaid would drastically hurt women who “comprise the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted that about 15 percent of low-income people “would lose access to care” under the AHCA due to the defunding of Planned Parenthood. And, as Marie Claire pointed out:
For women who let their insurance lapse, maternity coverage will no longer be guaranteed, and pregnant women may face surcharges up to $17,000 for care. C-sections could also be considered a pre-existing condition, meaning that a woman could incur costs of roughly $50,000 for simply wanting another child. States could determine that having a heavy period or other menstrual irregularities is a pre-existing condition to be paid for out of pocket.
The Republican health care bill presents a clear and present danger to millions of Americans, but minorities and women have the most to lose. Unfortunately, they’re nearly shut out of discussions about the bill, in politics and media alike.
* Repeated guests were counted each time they appeared.
Media Matters searched Nexis for mentions of health care, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, the American Health Care Act, or AHCA on prime-time cable news, broadcast news’ morning and evening news shows, and Sunday political shows between May 4 (after the House of Representatives passed the bill) and June 18. Segments were coded if they included a significant discussion of the Republican health care bill. “Significant discussion” was defined as at least two speakers in the segment engaging on the topic with one another.
Prime-time cable news refers to CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC programming between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. on weekdays. Broadcast news refers to ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, and NBC’s Today and NBC Nightly News. Sunday political shows refers to ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s State of the Union, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday.
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At least 21 congressional representatives also live outside the districts they were elected to represent
MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle has obsessed over a right-wing talking point about Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff's decision not to establish residence in the 6th district where he is running in a June 20 special election. However, as The Washington Post has noted, at least 21 congressional representatives live outside of the districts they represent and Ossoff grew up in the 6th district before moving a few miles away.
For months, Republicans and right-wing media attacked Ossoff for living just outside of Georgia’s 6th congressional district, and during the race it has become a major talking point, with outside groups running ads against him. President Donald Trump also tweeted similar attacks on the days of the primary election in April and the special election in June:
Just learned that Jon @Ossoff, who is running for Congress in Georgia, doesn't even live in the district. Republicans, get out and vote!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2017
Democrat Jon Ossoff, who wants to raise your taxes to the highest level and is weak on crime and security, doesn't even live in district.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2017
During an interview on CNN in April, Ossoff made it clear that he intends to move back to the 6th congressional district where he “grew up” once his fiancee finishes medical school. But Ruhle has repeatedly raised this Republican talking point during interviews with him and during discussions of the race.
During a June 16 interview, Ruhle noted that this line of attack had been used by Ossoff’s Republican opponent and acknowledged his reason for living outside the district. But she still pressed him on it, asking: “Why don’t you just move, at this point? I mean, you want to get this job, to me it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, why wouldn’t you just move so you could represent the district that you’d be governing?”
She brought up this GOP talking point again the morning of the election in a panel discussion, saying, “This is one I just can’t get over -- if you think about what people are going after him over -- the president tweeting about it this morning. This is resolvable. He just needs to get a house in the district.” And just minutes later, Ruhle again grilled Ossoff about his address, demanding to know why he just doesn’t move (emphasis added):
STEPHANIE RUHLE (HOST): Jon, I know you said it earlier, every vote counts. It is all about voter turnout. And I asked you the other day, but it's extraordinary, one of the main points that Karen Handel and even President Trump has pushed against you is something that's very easy to solve: where you live. And if you get elected you're going to be spending the majority of your time in Washington. And while people respect across the board your desire to support your fiancee, she is in medical school, she walks to work across the street at 4 a.m., you're going to be getting a job that has you on a plane living in another part of the country most days of the week. With every vote counting, with every point counting, why not move, sir?
JON OSSOFF: Well, Steph, voters just aren't asking me this question. Voters are asking me what I'm going to do to improve our local economy, voters are asking me what I'm going to do to ensure they have access to health care. Voters are asking me what I'm going to do to bring greater accountability to Washington. Folks here in Georgia’s 6th district care about how their representation is going to impact their daily lives. And frankly, if this is the best argument my opponents have against me, I'm feeling pretty good about the outcome tonight. I grew up in this community, as you mentioned I live a couple of miles down the road to support my fiancee while she finishes medical school. I’m running to serve my hometown in Congress and I want to make them proud.
RUHLE: But, Jon, since the special election where you were at 48.1, things have only moved to 48.8 with 50 million bucks under your belt. So voters care about a lot. If you look back on this and things are that tight, wouldn't you say to yourself, just get an apartment in the district, this race counts so much?
OSSOFF: Well, if voters were raising that as a serious concern, Steph, maybe I would. But voters care about how policy and how representation is going to impact their daily lives. They know I grew up in this community, they know I grew up in the 6th district, they know why I'm a couple miles south of the line. It's just not a major issue in the race. I'm focused on delivering representation that will serve our local economy, that will serve the daily needs of the people I hope to represent. And I'm offering a fresh voice to bring that kind of service to the 6th district.
Ruhle’s obsession with this GOP attack against Ossoff is undermined by data showing at least 21 members of the House of Representatives live outside of the districts they represent. The Washington Post published an analysis on June 20 that found “that at least 5 percent of [House members] live outside their districts” (emphasis added):
There’s no legal reason he should have to live in the district he hopes to represent; the Constitution mandates only that members of the House live in the state they are going to represent. That said, it’s generally considered politically advantageous to actually be a resident of the area you hope to represent.
If elected, Ossoff wouldn’t be the only member of Congress living in Georgia’s 5th District. There’s also Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who represents the district. But a review of vote registration records by The Washington Post suggests that Ossoff would be the third member of Congress to make his home in the 5th. According to voter data provided to The Post by the political data firm L2, Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) is also registered to vote in the district, instead of the 13th District that he represents.
In fact, The Post identified 20 members of Congress who are registered to vote outside of the districts they serve. In some cases, it’s clearly a function of redistricting. Four members of the House from southern Florida, for example, live outside of the districts they represent, but that’s likely because the Florida Supreme Court redrew the district boundaries at the end of 2015.
In total, we identified the records for 395 members of Congress, matching names and birthdates to voter files.
The broader point, though, is a simple one: Should Ossoff win the run-off in the 6th District in June, he will hardly be the only member of Congress to live outside of his district.
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Ever since President Donald Trump hired then-Breitbart.com chief executive Stephen Bannon to run his presidential campaign, the press has been struggling to comprehend the “alt-right” movement that his website helped promote. While many journalists have done yeoman’s work catching up on the assortment of white nationalists, misogynists, and conspiracy theorists behind this new wave of fringe media outlets, they’ve been less effective in learning about the tactics those figures use to manipulate the press. That failing was evident over the weekend, as major news outlets reported on Friday night’s “alt-right” interruption of a performance of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
That controversy, which triggered stories by The Associated Press, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications, demonstrated that the news judgment of mainstream news outlets has yet to adjust to the new reality. And it is a sad reminder that the “alt-right’s” greatest strength is its ability to exploit the media for its own ends.
Conservative criticism of the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar in New York’s Central Park, which debuted in late May and concluded Sunday night, hit the public consciousness on June 11 after it came under attack from Fox News. In an appearance on the weekend edition of the network’s Fox & Friends morning show, TownHall.com Political Editor Guy Benson denounced the play for placing a Trump look-alike in the titular role of the Roman leader who is assassinated onstage.
As other conservative media figures and Trump’s own sons joined the chorus, Delta and Bank of America ended their corporate sponsorship of the production. And after a gunman targeted Republican members of Congress practicing on a baseball field last week, wounding Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), right-wing commentators linked the attack to the play.
These arguments are foolish and made in bad faith. Caesar’s assassination is not glamorized in the production -- indeed, the message of the play is that misguided political violence will inevitably breed disastrous consequences. “Likening Shakespeare’s monarchs and politicians to real-life figures is a long-standing performance practice, seized by directors with sometimes illuminating, sometimes boneheaded results,” Slate’s Issac Butler noted after the initial complaints, pointing out that performances of Julius Caesar have featured then-President Barack Obama in the titular role without incident.
The controversy culminated in a "protest" at Friday night’s performance, when the production was interrupted for roughly a minute when the “alt-right” online outlet Rebel Media’s Laura Loomer stormed the stage, shouting, “Do you want Trump to be assassinated?” She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. Jack Posobiec, another “alt-right” figure, also interrupted the performance, yelling, “The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands” and comparing the audience to the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels before being removed from the theater. Posobiec taped the disturbance and posted it on Twitter, where it quickly circulated.
Why did they do it? The incident has the hallmarks of a grift: The disturbances came after “alt-right” personality Mike Cernovich offered a $1,000 bounty to anyone who successfully interrupted the performance, and Loomer is seeking to crowdfund $25,000, supposedly for her legal defense.
It’s not unusual for protesters to use civil disobedience to garner media attention for their cause. But this "protest" had no real aim other than the aggrandizement of its participants. It had all the moral force of a pair of drunken assholes running onto the field to halt a baseball game, and deserved a similar degree of attention from the media. Instead, mainstream reporters have been transfixed by the story, generating reams of coverage that bolster the profiles of Posobiec and Loomer. For the cost of a ticket, they were able to troll the public with their nonsense claims, with mainstream outlets regurgitating their trolling at the top of their stories and burying the reasons not to believe them.
This manipulation of the mainstream press by subversive elements who don’t play by the traditional rules of journalism should be an ongoing concern. We’ve seen the press fall for these efforts time and time again -- indeed, NBC News spent most of last week getting outmaneuvered at every turn by Infowars chief Alex Jones.
Mainstream reporters rightfully feel compelled to cover the rising tide of fringe-right outlets because of their close ties to the president, and the manner in which their seemingly-absurd conspiracy theories have translated into harassment. Their claims about a pedophile ring operating out of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor led to gunfire at the restaurant; Seth Rich’s family was hassled following their allegations that the murdered Democratic staffer was actually bumped off by Hillary Clinton’s campaign; their lies that the Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax turn the lives of the victims’ parents into waking nightmares.
But the pro-Trump fringe has become adept at taking advantage of those inclinations to increase its own influence. As they come under more scrutiny, these “alt-right” figures are learning how to gin up grievances, manufacture new controversies, and troll the press to garner attention and make money.
Reporters need to show better news judgment when they engage with the “alt-right.” When the movement’s media personalities are stirring controversies that have a real impact on people’s lives, they have earned national attention.
But when the “alt-right” personalities are deliberately screwing with journalists to bolster their own profiles, the best thing journalists can do for their readers is refuse to play their game.
Roger Stone says President Trump should fire special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for “wasting the taxpayer’s money” in what he called, a “witch hunt” to take down the president.
During an interview with CNN Money, Stone, a close ally and longtime adviser of Donald Trump blasted the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russians calling it a wasteful “witch hunt.” Stone’s comments come after Trump tweeted similar remarks earlier in the day calling the investigation a “witch hunt” and cryptically claiming he is being investigated by “the man who told [him] to fired the FBI Director,” an attack presumably accusing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein of investigating him for firing former FBI Director Comey at his direction.
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
Stone sells himself as Trump’s inside man and has openly talked about his official and unofficial roles in Trump’s presidential campaign. He has been under FBI scrutiny for his role in allegedly “colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House.” Stone maintains his innocence despite the investigation and continues to downplay his role in coordinating with the Russians during the election.
JEFF ZELENY: Now as the president returns to the White House in this hour, one question above all that he's facing is what is his relationship with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein? Now, the president has said through his aides he does not plan, at this time, to try and fire the special counsel Bob Mueller, but there's one person recommending he does just that. Jake [Tapper], Roger Stone, the president's longtime friend and associate told CNN Money earlier today this, “I'd fire Mueller and Rosenstein for wasting the taxpayer's money. This is a witch-hunt.” Those words sound familiar.
Fox has adopted Conway’s oft-repeated lament that media outlets aren’t covering Trump’s supposed accomplishments enough
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has spent months demanding media outlets end “presumptively negative” coverage of the president and devote more time to his accomplishments. Now, Fox has begun adopting her wishes by repeating her criticism -- to the point that she praised them in a recent interview for doing so.
In the weeks following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Conway has repeatedly criticized interviewers for focusing on events or statements by the administration that make Trump look bad and tried to steer conversation to what the administration views as positive developments and news.
This is a strategy she has followed no matter what Trump has said or done. After the president called the press the “enemy of the American People” in March, Conway asserted on Fox that journalists have a “responsibility” to “not be presumptively negative” in their coverage of Trump. In April, Conway told Fox host Jeanine Pirro that “the mainstream media are making Americans suffer from information underload on all the great things the president is doing” by instead covering Trump’s scandals. Trump has reinforced Conway’s admonishment of the media with his own tweets. (However, media have noted that many of Trump’s supposed accomplishments either have little or nothing to do with him, or are just political theater with little substance.)
Fox News recently showed that it has taken Conway’s criticism to heart and adopted her idea of what media coverage of the Trump administration should look like.
On June 11, MediaBuzz host and media critic Howard Kurtz noted that during “infrastructure week,” the May 16-19 week in which the administration attempted to heavily promote Trump’s plans for infrastructure repairs, “the media attention was so focused” on former FBI Director James Comey and Russia that the president’s agenda was not covered. He concluded: “There is some responsibility on the part of the media to keep reporting on things that actually affect the lives of most Americans and not just Washington scandal stuff.”
The next day, Fox Business host Stuart Varney went on Fox & Friends to gush over the country’s economic performance and lambaste other news outlets for not adopting a 100 percent optimistic view of the economy in their headlines. After co-host Steve Doocy stated that “the mainstream media has a whole different story” on the economy, Varney went all-in on criticizing news outlets for their continued coverage of Trump’s scandals, declaring it a “disgrace” and “a crying shame” that they weren’t devoting more time to the economy’s performance under Trump:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Well, numbers don't lie. The economy on the rise under President Trump, but the mainstream media has a whole different story. Here's some of the headlines, The New York Times claiming "weak spots remain," Washington Examiner citing a "roller coaster economy," and Bloomberg going as far as calling the president's economic agenda "almost dead."
STUART VARNEY: I think it's a disgrace, quite frankly. Here we have the media concentrating en masse, Russia, Russia, Russia. Comey, Comey, Comey, plots, investigations. All of that is front page news all the time. What's going on in people’s lives -- better jobs, wages, housing improving, the improvement in our economy, our financial way of life -- that goes uncovered, and that's a crying shame.
Less than 30 minutes after Varney’s tirade, Fox & Friends interviewed Conway, and co-host Brian Kilmeade said to her that “these other media outlets are trying to kill you.” Conway responded by praising Fox for doing what she’s been demanding of news outlets for months (emphasis added):
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Kellyanne you are a genius at politics. Every time the president mentions Comey or Russia, it doesn't work to his advantage. It works to the Democrats’.
KELLYANNE CONWAY: I know he’s …
KILMEADE: So if you agree with that, maybe you don't, if you agree with that and the president wants to get his agenda through, wouldn't he be better off not doing anything about those things, letting others do it?
CONWAY: He is likely watching and getting your advice right now, Brian. But at the same time, I don't know why people just can't cover both. In other words, if I hear one more time, well we wanted to cover infrastructure, we wanted to cover jobs and workforce development. We really wanted to talk about this incredible economy of 4.3 percent unemployment, lowest in 15 years. Fewer unemployed since 2007, I believe. And certainly the confidence numbers are way up. For the last decade, they haven't been this high. So why can't people cover both stories?
KILMEADE: Because they are trying to kill you. Because these other media outlets are trying to kill you.
CONWAY: No kidding. No kidding, but he’s the president.
KILMEADE: That’s just it. So don’t give them the bloody knife.
CONWAY: They need to, quote, “accept the election results.” All the things that I was asked and the president was asked and everybody was asked six weeks to Sunday, from that October 19 debate in Las Vegas when he said, “I will keep you in suspense.” And the next day he said in Ohio at a rally, “I will accept them if I win.” And people freaked out and they’re still freaking out. So -- but I think that the responsibility is to cover all of the above. And look, the media has a great responsibility and a great role here. They can be telling the veterans that hey, you’re now --
KILMEADE: But they're not.
CONWAY: Well, but they should. And you at least give us a platform to talk about facts, to talk about all the great things that are happening that impact real people's lives.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): That's because, Kellyanne, they care more about politics than they do about America. I mean, they’re not reporting on this.
And on June 16, Conway reappeared on the network to again trash the media for supposedly not covering the president properly. Conway said Fox was the only network not criticizing the president “as Steve Scalise was fighting for his life and crawling into right field.” Co-host Ainsley Earhardt questioned how the media would cover Trump’s upcoming change in Cuba policy later that day:
KELLYANNE CONWAY: I did a really clever thing. I went back and looked at exactly what was being discussed on all of the TV shows except [Fox & Friends] at 7:09 a.m. on Wednesday when this happened, and it's a really curious exercise because as Steve Scalise was fighting for his life and crawling into right field in a trail of blood, you should go back and see what people were saying about the president and the Republicans at that very moment. Of course, they had to break in with the news of this tragedy and since then there’s been some introspection, some quieter, more muted voices, toning down the rhetoric, but look at Twitter: If I were shot and killed tomorrow, half of Twitter would explode in applause and excitement. This is the world we live in now.
AINSLEY EARHARDT: Yeah, we’re going to have to watch and see how [the media] cover things going forward. That was all before the shooting happened. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media covers President Trump’s trip to Miami today. What is he doing down in Miami today, Kellyanne?
CONWAY: So down in Miami today, the president is doing a very exciting for the Cuban people. Our unity is with the Cuban people, not the oppressive Cuban regime that has benefitted from these changes in the Obama administration policies that helped the military, the security, and the intelligence entities there benefit from U.S.-derived funds. That has to stop and that will stop.
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