Media Structures & Regulations

Issues ››› Media Structures & Regulations
  • In The CPAC Bubble, "Every Day Is Christmas" With President Trump In Office

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    While President Donald Trump is off to a rocky, even chaotic, start by many accounts -- with the "highest disapproval for a new elected president since polls began tracking those results," according to CNN -- at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week, he was cheered as a success.

    Trump has waged a war on the press, regularly seeking to undermine critical media outlets while elevating propagandists who applaud his every move. CPAC attendees have heard the message loud and clear, saying they favor outlets like Fox News and Breitbart for their information over the supposedly dishonest mainstream media.

    Trump again played to that anti-media fervor when he spoke at the conference Friday, accusing certain media outlets of being "an enemy of the people."

    A year after many CPAC attendees said they didn't want Trump to attend the annual D.C.-area event, prompting him to stay away, the majority of the conferencegoers who spoke to Media Matters this week rated his first month in office positively. Many said he's living up to his promises, including on issues like immigration, foreign affairs, and business relations. And both conservative media voices and regular attendees were unified in their support.

    “I think it’s been fantastic,” said Lars Larson, a syndicated conservative radio talk host. “He’s moving at the speed of business, and everybody else is having to adjust. The media is having to adjust to the idea that they have a president who will push back when appropriate. The media has to adjust to the fact that he moves fast and the rest of the government moves slow.”

    As for chaos, Larson added, “I think the chaos is almost entirely created -- the impression of chaos. I don’t know how in the world someone could take over any operation, chief executive, bring in 4,000 new employees in the span of 30 days -- how do you do that without some missteps?”

    Larry O’Connor, a local D.C. talk radio host and online editor at The Weekly Standard, added that Trump is “doing what he promised and you can’t ask for more than that.”

    As for media coverage of Trump, he joined others in saying, “The media has fallen into a bit of a trap of propping themselves up as the last bastion of truth when they criticize the White House for playing fast and loose with the facts, but they didn’t seem to care about it for the past eight years.”

    Rick Tyler, an MSNBC and Sirius Radio commentator and former Newt Gingrich aide and Ted Cruz spokesperson, said, “On balance, I think he is doing very well. Stylistically, he’s been terrible.”

    Asked why many at CPAC who didn't want him around last year are welcoming him with open arms today, Tyler said one reason is that he won the election.

    “There are a lot of reasons why," he said. “One is that he beat Hillary Clinton. He got two pipelines back in, he won major coal rights. … He is trying to create a rational immigration system.”

    John Fredericks, a Virginia-based radio talk show host, called Trump’s first month “phenomenal, unbelievable. If you are a Trump supporter, this has been the most phenomenal first month because he is in the face of his detractors.”

    Like many at the conference, he says Trump owes no apologies: “He's turning the whole Washington elite media on its head. It's the great disruption of his time. You’ve got to start by breaking the system to pieces, then you can get things done.”

    The conference's non-media attendees -- many of them students -- were even stronger in their praise of Trump’s first few weeks. And they, too, attacked the press.

    But there was no talk of Trump's questionable ties to Russia, criticism of the FBI, or other internal problems.

    “I like him a lot. He's doing what he said he could do,” said Jennifer Perrautt, a University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, student who spoke as she waited in line to see Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday. “On immigration and on wanting to overturn Obamacare.”

    Like most at the conference, Perrautt is a Fox News viewer. Asked about other mainstream outlets, she said: “I don’t really like it. They always try to paint him in a bad light. They nitpick everything he says.”

    Isabella Olson of Fond du Lac, WI, a Fox News viewer and a member of the University of Wisconsin College Republicans, agreed.

    “I’m happy with what he's doing. He's doing what he said he would. I’m happy for the immigration moves,” she said, later adding about the media, “They've mistreated him. They say he's evil.”

    Kathy Frey, an attendee from Edina, MN, said she and her friend drove to D.C. to see Trump and help support him this week.

    “I love him. Every day is Christmas,” she said. “He’s fulfilling his promises. We need a thriving economy, and I trust he will do what is needed.”

    As for media coverage of Trump, she called it “horrendous, negative and not to be trusted. They should be objective. We don’t have objective media.” Frey said her news sources are Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

    Her friend Barb Sutter, also a Fox News fan, added that she was “impressed at the [Trump] work ethic. He never made a secret of what he would do.”

  • NBC Nightly News Thinks Kicking Out One White Nationalist Absolves CPAC's Promotion Of The "Alt-Right"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET


    NBC Nightly News
    ’ White House correspondent Hallie Jackson whitewashed CPAC’s promotion of “alt-right” nationalism by uncritically reporting that CPAC attempted to distance itself from white nationalist Richard Spencer, ignoring CPACs speaking invitations to “alt-right” provocateurs Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos.

    In a February 23 report, Jackson described Stephen Bannon as “the power behind the populist brand” promoted by President Trump and argued that CPAC was filled with “talk of economic nationalism” by Bannon and other CPAC speakers. Jackson claimed that CPAC had “no tolerance for a different kind of nationalism … the white nationalism popularized by Richard Spencer, who was kicked out today”:

    LESTER HOLT (HOST): Just outside the nation's capitol, members of the Trump administration dominated the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, ahead of the president's appearance tomorrow. On stage today, a rare public appearance by Steve Bannon, the architect of the Trump campaign, who has quietly worked behind the scenes as the president’s chief strategist. Today, however, he spoke out. NBC News White House correspondent Hallie Jackson has details.

    HALLIE JACKSON: Today, a Trump team take over at a conservative conference, and stepping out of shadows of the West Wing, one of the president's most trusted advisors in a rare public appearance.

    STEPHEN BANNON: I want to thank you for finally inviting me to CPAC. JACKSON: That's controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon, the power behind the populist brand that propelled Donald Trump to victory.

    [...]

    JACKSON: For all the talk of economic nationalism on stage, no tolerance for a different kind of nationalism off it, the white nationalism popularized by Richard Spencer, who was kicked out today. CPAC organizers explicitly denouncing the fringe movement he helps lead.

    DAN SCHNEIDER: They are anti-semites, they are racists, they are sexists. They are not an extension of the conservatism. 

    But CPAC was filled with far right zealots who have promoted “alt-right” ideology. Steve Bannon, the former executive chair for Breitbart.com, had a prominent speech at the conference despite Breitbart’s history of promoting white-nationalists. Bannon even said during his time as executive chair that Breitbart.com had become “the platform for the alt-right” under his leadership.

    CPAC also invited former Breitbart.com editor Milo Yiannopoulos as a keynote speaker at the conference, before disinviting Yiannopoulos when videos emerged showing Yiannopoulos justifying the sexual abuse of a minor by an adult. Yiannopoulos himself described Richard Spencer and other white nationalists as “dangerously bright,” and ACU's Matt Schlapp promoted Yiannopoulos’ keynote speech by tweeting “We think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.”

  • James O’Keefe, Donald Trump, And The “CNN Leaks” Disinformation Attempt

    Sad!

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Self-described “guerilla journalist” James O’Keefe has spent months hyping his plans to take on mainstream media. Today, his launch of a laughably underwhelming “CNN Leaks” project shows that O’Keefe was so eager to validate President Donald Trump’s war on the mainstream media that he hyped a blockbuster revelation before he actually discovered one.

    O’Keefe, a partisan activist who styles himself as a “citizen journalist,” purports to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions” through his nonprofit, Project Veritas. Under the guise of this mission, O’Keefe has spent years hyping and releasing secretly recorded and heavily edited videos aimed to discredit and attack almost exclusively progressive organizers, leaders, and government officials.

    O’Keefe’s videos often fall flat and rarely match their billings. He has had to issue public apologies, been arrested for trespassing, and foiled his own plots, yet his videos have been promoted by the president. O’Keefe also regularly incites his loyal internet followers to practice their own brand of “investigative journalism.”

    Since the election, O’Keefe has expanded his sights beyond progressive targets to “main stream media” and issued categorical threats of surveillance aimed at CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, among other figures. “The media is a huge target of mine right now,” O’Keefe told CNN’s Brian Stelter as he previewed his new “CNN Leaks” project earlier this week. O’Keefe also hyped “CNN Leaks” in a radio appearance with Fox’s Sean Hannity and in social media posts. The Associated Press also wrote about the anticipated release -- not to mention the numerous conservative blogs that breathlessly follow O’Keefe’s so-called investigations. Politico’s Hadas Gold wrote, “Some staffers at CNN were legitimately alarmed that O'Keefe would be releasing tapes that could be embarrassing for the network.”

    And then the release happened.

    What The “CNN Leaks” Don’t Show

    On Thursday morning, Project Veritas released 119 hours of raw audio recordings from inside CNN’s headquarters (with “more than 100 hours” yet to be released). The recordings were taken in 2009, and given to Project Veritas by an anonymous source. O’Keefe said his group has not had the time to review and transcribe all of the recordings, instead telling his supporters to listen, transcribe, and send tips about the hours of footage to him. These full audio recordings were not available until the late afternoon due to issues with Project Veritas’ website.

    O’Keefe did post a nearly eight-minute video on YouTube explaining the project and highlighting a few excerpts from the tapes that he claims show “profound liberal bias” and “CNN's misrepresentation of polling data.” As Politico explained, these assertions “fall flat.”

    O’Keefe’s press release led with two segments from the recordings that he suggests “show CNN's misrepresentation of polling data.” As Gold points out, the first section actually depicts “two producers talking about the use of certain polls and why then-CNN polling director (now NH1 News political director and anchor) Paul Steinhauser declined to use a poll by Rasmussen, a group whose polling methods are still not widely accepted.” The recordings did not, by any stretch, confirm Trump’s claim that CNN polls are “fake news,” as O’Keefe suggested.

    O’Keefe also described this accurate statement about the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change from the former news desk editor for CNN’s “The Wire” as “profound liberal bias”:

    That issue, climate change, I mean science is pretty much on board and there are a few dissenters. There's no debate. It's like you know, born-agains saying there's a debate over, you know creationism, and all that stuff. There is no debate.

    Speaking of bias, while this CNN editor was correctly describing the consensus on human-caused climate change in 2009, a Fox News executive was instructing staff to undermine that consensus on air.

    Among the supposedly incriminating statements O’Keefe singled out for the “CNN Leaks” press release was this from CNN’s Richard Griffiths, now a vice president and senior editorial director at the network (from Project Veritas transcript):

    If we are journalists, what is our role as a journalist? What is the fundamental role as a journalist, for us to do? Tell a story. Tell what's going on. There's a secondary corollary to that, right? Aid the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To a degree, right? Is that not part of the traditional role of a journalist. It's actually one of the things I can be most proud of as a journalist. You know we try to show the ugly side of humanity so we can do something about it. It's hard, very hard.

    Shocking stuff.

    Trump, O’Keefe, And “Fake News”

    As Gold points out, it’s certainly possible something embarrassing from the network will be uncovered in the hours of footage. But right now, there’s no there there. The real story of the “CNN Leaks” -- at least in terms of what O’Keefe deemed newsworthy in his press release -- is how explicitly the "overrated" release seems aimed to confirm Trump’s anti-CNN assertions.

    On the campaign trail, Trump specifically cited distortions from O’Keefe’s videos, and his charitable foundation gave thousands to Project Veritas in 2015. Trump also personally validated and encouraged “new media” (as O’Keefe likely imagines himself to be) to combat “the total dishonesty of the press” during a Reddit discussion. The similarities between Trump’s attacks on the media (and CNN, specifically) and O’Keefe’s distortions of the concept of journalism are striking, and seemingly create an anti-fact echo chamber among the internet masses, O’Keefe, and the White House. The purposeful twisting of the term “fake news” is the latest iteration.

    O’Keefe’s video release for the “CNN Leaks” began with a clip of his announcement, made at the Deploraball Inauguration event, that he would “investigate and expose the media -- particularly the mainstream media." Before O’Keefe showed any excerpts from the 2009 audio recordings, he rehashed clips of Trump calling CNN and mainstream media “fake news.” After playing Griffiths’ quote about journalists’ duty to “aid the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” O’Keefe questioned whether the statement “now applies to President Trump.”

    The potentially ongoing anti-media mindmeld between Trump, O’Keefe, and other self-styled citizen journalists who follow them now includes O’Keefe’s newest offering (or, as the Drudge Report gleefully calls it, a "bounty"): a “citizen journalist” award of $10,000 to “anyone who comes forward with legally obtained materials exposing media malfeasance.” There are hours of years-old CNN recordings that have yet to be reviewed by his followers, but based on the highlights, Trump is sure to love whatever they decide is there.

    In fact, O’Keefe says the president already thinks the project is “so cool.” 

  • Sean Hannity Falls For Misleading Claim From Gateway Pundit (Again)

    Gateway Pundit, Which Recently Got White House Press Credentials, Is Known For Inaccuracy

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On February 22, Jim Hoft posted an article on his website The Gateway Pundit alleging that a “Wikileaks Document Shows John McCain Requested Donations From Russians!” Fox News’ Sean Hannity retweeted a tweet that both linked to the Gateway Pundit post and called McCain a “globalist war criminal,” adding, “Wow if true”:

    [Screencap via Mediaite]

    But Hoft’s article is wildly misleading. His source for the claim was “Reddit users,” and his blog failed to note that the incident had already been reported -- and dismissed -- as a mere clerical error. In 2008, McCain’s presidential campaign stated that the Russian Embassy in the United States had mistakenly received a standard campaign solicitation in the mail, with campaign spokesperson Brian Rogers calling it “just an error.” The Russians agreed with Rogers’ explanation, dismissing the fundraising request as “a computer failure,” according to a 2008 Associated Press report

    When McCain’s Senate office shot down Hoft’s slapdash reporting with a statement condemning Hannity for “attacking Senator McCain over a fake news story,” Hannity deleted the tweet and extended his “apologies” to McCain (and got defensive over people criticizing him for spreading false information).

    Unfortunately for Hannity, this is not his first experience being burned by Hoft’s amateur reporting. On November 2, Hannity was forced to “humbly apologize” for spreading a totally false Gateway Pundit story that claimed “Barack and Elizabeth Warren had wiped references to Hillary Clinton in their Twitter feeds.” 

    Jim Hoft’s Gateway Pundit is a known source of lies and misinformation. True to form, Hoft has not deleted the erroneous McCain article from February 22, nor has he deleted the now months-old lie about top Democrats scrubbing Hillary Clinton from their Twitter accounts. Such behavior is hardly surprising coming from Hoft, who he has been absurdly wrong about everything from his suggestion that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA championship parade was the crowd at a rally for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump to his claim that a Confederate flag lapel pin was allegedly made by Barack Obama’s campaign. Despite Gateway Pundit’s bipartisan reputation for being wrong, Trump’s administration saw fit to give the site White House press credentials.

    But Hannity can’t blame Hoft alone for his habit of spreading misleading and fake news stories. Back in 1989, Hannity was fired from a local radio show for peddling the homophobic lie that gay people are prone to disease because they eat each other’s feces during sex. More recently, Hannity has also embraced the world of supermarket tabloids, lending credence to the National Enquirer’s absurd lie that Rafael Cruz, Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father, was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and hosting the former publisher of Weekly World News -- the supermarket tabloid responsible for “Bat Boy” -- to describe his alleged time as a Clinton “fixer.” 

  • Report: Facebook Continues To Placate Conservatives By Donating To CPAC

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Daily Beast reports that Facebook donated more than $120,000 to the American Conservative Union’s annual event the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Mark Zuckerberg’s donation comes after he held a meeting with conservative media personalities such as Glenn Beck and Fox’s Dana Perino following allegations that the website had been suppressing conservative views.

    During the meeting, Zuckerberg lauded President Donald Trump for having “more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate” and Fox News for driving “more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world.” Following the accusations of bias, Facebook laid off its entire editorial team and replaced it with an algorithm, a move which The Washington Post reported led to the rise and prominence of “fake news” trending on the website.

    According to The Daily Beast, Facebook continues to court conservatives with its “six-figure contribution to CPAC,” which includes a cash donation and “in-kind support.” From The Daily Beast:

    Sources with direct knowledge of the matter tell The Daily Beast that Facebook made a six-figure contribution to CPAC, the yearly conference for conservative activists which will feature President Donald Trump, White House advisor Steve Bannon, NRA president Wayne LaPierre, and other right-wing favorites.

    Facebook’s contribution is worth more than $120,000, according to our sources. Half of that is cash, and the other half is in-kind support for CPAC’s operations. Facebook will have a space at the conference for attendees to film Facebook Live videos, and will also train people on best practices for using the social network and Instagram.

    [...]

    The Wall Street Journal reported in October that Trump’s own Facebook posts fueled intense debate within the company about what kind of content was acceptable——particularly his calls for a ban on Muslims from entering the U.S. Mark Zuckerberg himself had to determine that Trump’s posts were okay, according to the paper’s report. And The New York Times reported that after Trump won the election, some company employees worried the spread of racist memes and fake news on the site may have boosted his candidacy.

    “A fake story claiming Pope Francis—actually a refugee advocate—endorsed Mr. Trump was shared almost a million times, likely visible to tens of millions,” Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina who studies the social impact of technology, told the Times. “Its correction was barely heard. Of course Facebook had significant influence in this last election’s outcome.”

  • “Explosive Allegations” In Fox Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Include Electronic Surveillance And Violations Of SEC Law

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In what were described by National Public Radio’s David Folkenflik as “explosive allegations,” former host Andrea Tantaros claimed Fox News conducted “electronic surveillance” and potentially “violated securities laws by not reporting [lawsuit] settlements to the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

    The allegations of surveillance and securities fraud originate from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in 2016 by Tantaros naming Fox News, Ailes, and on-air personalities Scott Brown and Bill O’Reilly, “alleging retaliation by Ailes after she tried to complain about harassment.” Tantaros has spoken out about the “pervasive … culture of misogyny and sexism” at Fox News, and claimed that she was sexually harassed by Ailes “numerous times.” Moreover, the allegations of “electronic surveillance” come on the heels of Fox News’ parent company News Corp’s 2011 phone hacking scandal, and reports that Fox News even “hired a private investigator in late 2010 to obtain the personal home- and cell-phone records of” Media Matters’ own Joe Strupp.

    Now, according to The Washington Post, Tantaros’ lawyer is accusing Fox of electronic surveillance and sought “to amend the suit by adding racketeering and electronic surveillance charges,” although, “The judge told Burstein that he could not so amend the complaint.” Fox News dismissed the latest claims as “histrionics.” From the February 15 article:

    A lawyer for former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros told a New York State Supreme Court judge that he had received a subpoena from federal prosecutors in relation to the sexual harassment scandal that forced the ouster of longtime Fox News chief Roger Ailes last July. “Once I saw it, I knew what was happening,” attorney Judd Burstein said in the proceedings, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “They were investigating whether Fox News violated securities laws by not reporting settlements to the Securities and Exchange Commission.” The subpoena did not concern Tantaros, but rather another client Burstein is representing.

    [...]

    The occasion for Burstein’s statements was a hearing for Tantaros’s lawsuit filed last August against Fox News, Ailes and top network executives. In that civil action, Tantaros claimed that Ailes made offensive comments about her and otherwise mistreated her, all with the complicity of his lieutenants. Though he was not named as a defendant, top host Bill O’Reilly comes under fire in the filing for pursuing a romantic relationship with Tantaros, who had worked on the daytime programs “The Five” and “Outnumbered.”

    [...]

    In the hearing, Burstein expressed his wish to amend the Tantaros suit by adding racketeering and electronic surveillance charges — a reference to the intelligence unit once operated by Ailes to spy on Fox News talent and critics. The judge told Burstein that he could not so amend the complaint.

    As far as the network’s settlements go, there may be some material for inspection. Just last month, news broke that Fox News months ago had reached a pricey, hush-hush settlement with former on-air personality Juliet Huddy over sexual harassment claims against O’Reilly. At that time, veteran New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman noted that the network had inked settlements with at least four women since the departure of Ailes.

  • 10 Headlines From The Federalist Papers Project, Which The White House Just Invited Into The Daily Briefing

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    The Federalist Papers Project is a hyperpartisan right-wing website that traffics in clickbait headlines, racist content, and misleading stories. And one of its authors just got to ask a question at the White House press briefing.

    Jason Stevens, author at The Federalist Papers Project, asked a question via Skype to White House press secretary Sean Spicer on February 14 about regulatory reform. The Federalist Papers Project has, until now, not had a seat in the White House press briefing room.

    The hyperpartisan right-wing website regularly pushes outlandish articles that border on fake news. Similar to websites known as fake news purveyors that share a combination of fake news and other types of content -- like real news or misleading information -- the Federalist Papers Project publishes its stories with exaggerated clickbait headlines, out-of-context quotes, and racist themes.

    In addition to the various Federalist Papers Project stories that have been rated as half-true, or “mixture,” statements by fact-checking site Snopes.com, here are some other problematic headlines that the site has published:

    Throughout the election, now-President Donald Trump and his associates frequently peddled lies and pushed fake news stories and conspiracy theories, and they were in regular contact with conspiracy website InfoWars. Since his inauguration, Trump and his cadre of aides have continued parroting fake news stories. The Gateway Pundit, a website that regularly publishes false stories and conspiracy theories, has also been given a press briefing credential, and InfoWars’ Alex Jones claims that he has been offered White House credentials.

  • Washington Post: Trump Official Claims Administration Has Compiled “Dossiers” Of Negative Information On Reporters

    White House Correspondent April Ryan Claims Omarosa Manigault Admitted To “Dossiers” Being Compiled On Several African-American Journalists

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post reported Omarosa Manigault, “who is now a communications official in the Trump administration,” had “physically intimidated” White House correspondent April Ryan and “made verbal threats, including the assertion that Ryan was among several journalists on whom Trump officials had collected dossiers’ of negative information.”

    While Donald Trump’s “war on the press” has been documented throughout his campaign, the revelation that the White House has compiled “dossiers” of “negative information” on reporters represents a frightening escalation. From the February 13 Washington Post report:

    Manigault, who is now a communications official in the Trump administration, got into a heated argument with a White House reporter just steps from the Oval Office last week, according to witnesses. The reporter, April Ryan, said Manigault “physically intimidated” her in a manner that could have warranted intervention by the Secret Service.

    Ryan also said Manigault made verbal threats, including the assertion that Ryan was among several journalists on whom Trump officials had collected “dossiers” of negative information.

    Manigault, a onetime friend of Ryan’s, declined to address Ryan’s accusations on the record, offering only this emailed statement: “My comment: Fake news!” She did not specify what she considered false.

    [...]

    The encounter between Manigault and Ryan took place outside White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s West Wing office late Wednesday. Among the witnesses were White House press office staffers and a Washington Post reporter, Abby Phillip.

    Phillip said she didn’t hear every word of the women’s exchange but said Ryan told her afterward that she felt Manigault’s behavior was so threatening that it was “Secret Serviceable,” meaning that it rose to the level of law enforcement intervention.

    Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, used the same phrase repeatedly in an interview. “She stood right in my face like she was going to hit me,” Ryan said. “I said, ‘You better back up.’ . . . She thought I would be bullied. I won’t be.”

    [...]

    During their altercation, Ryan said Manigault told her that she was among several African American journalists who were the subject of White House “dossiers.” Manigault has previously said that Trump is keeping “a list” of opponents, though at the time she was referring to Republicans who voted against Trump.

  • Yale Historian Compares America To Nazi Germany, Calling Bannon’s Media Interactions A Major Sign Of The Threat

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In an interview with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder said the threat posed by President Donald Trump means “we have at most a year to defend the Republic” and highlighted the role chief strategist Stephen Bannon is playing in that threat, including the administration’s interaction with the media.

    The Trump presidency has created no shortage of concerns about the stability of the republic. Trump has waged an unrelenting war on the press for more than a year, personally attacking dozens of journalists, falsely decrying entire news organizations as “fake news,” and even going so far as to shout down CNN’s Jim Acosta for asking a question at a press conference. It’s not just Trump, either -- Bannon, formerly of Breitbart.com, attacked the mainstream media as “the opposition party,” demanding that media “keep its mouth shut” and listen to Trump. Bannon is also known for formerly running a website that pushes pro-white nationalist viewpoints, dog-whistling to neo-Nazis, and infecting the current administration with anti-immigrant policies.

    In the February 7 interview, Snyder commented on Bannon’s interaction with the media specifically, noting that he “says in essence that he misleads the public and the media deliberately” and that Bannon’s goal is “the extinction of the whole political system.” Snyder also says the media is “worse” in America now than it was during Nazi Germany, because it is “very polarized and very concentrated.” In addition, Snyder explains that Bannon’s use of the term “opposition” when describing the media is an indicator of talk about an “authoritarian state” because it suggests some type of regime change:

    How similar is the situation between Germany of the 1930s and today’s United States?

    Of course, not everything is similar. Some things are better now than they were in the 1930s but some things are worse. The media is worse, I would say. It is very polarized and it is very concentrated. In Germany before the state shut down German newspapers, there was authentic variety that we don’t have now. People in the 1930s generally had longer attention spans than we do. On the other side, the United States is a larger country, with pockets of wealth distributed widely, and it is more connected to the world. The main advantage that we have is that we can learn from the 1930s. Again, it’s very important to stress that history does not repeat. But it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance. 

    [...]

    President Trump’s political strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that he wants to „make life as exciting as it was in the 1930s“. The first two weeks have shown how big his influence is, it seems much bigger than Reince Priebus’s or Jared Kushner’s.

    I can’t speak to intra-White House conflicts. I can only say that Mr. Trump’s inaugural address was extremely ideological. During the campaign he used the slogan “America First” and then was informed that this was the name of a movement that tried to prevent the United States from fighting Nazi Germany and was associated with nativists and white supremacists. He claimed then not to have known that. But in the inaugural address he made “America First” his central theme, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s. 

    When Bannon calls himself a „Leninist“, do Americans know what is he talking about?

    No, they usually have no idea. It is a good question. Americans have this idea that comes from Jefferson and the American Revolution that you have to rebel every so often. And they sometimes don’t make the distinction between a rebellion against injustice and the extinction of the whole political system, which is what Bannon says that he is after. The American Revolution actually preserved ideas from Britain: the rule of law being the most important. The whole justification of the American Revolution was that the British were not living up to their own principles, were not including Americans in their own system. In a broad way that that was also the argument of the civil rights movement: the system fails itself when it does not extend equal rights to all citizens. So there can be resistance and even revolution which is about meeting standards rather than about simple destruction. What Bannon says correctly about the Bolsheviks was that they aimed to completely destroy an old regime. We can slip from one to the other very easily, from rebelliousness to a complete negation of the system. Most Americans had a rule of law state for most of their lives, African Americans are an exception, and so most Americans think this will be there forever. They don’t get that a “disruption” can actually destroy much of what they take for granted. They have no notion what it means to destroy the state and how their lives would look like if the rule of law would no longer exist. I find it frightening that people who talk about the destruction of the American state are now in charge of the American state.

    [...]

    The White House statement for the Holocaust Day on January 27 didn’t mention Jews. At first it looked like a mistake but now it is official that it was intentional.

    The Holocaust reference is very important on our side of the Atlantic. If Americans have a reference point in world history, it is precisely the Holocaust, the Holocaust and let’s say Normandy, the Second World War, are the one aperture into a broader history, one where republics fall and extremes triumph. So if Steve Bannon turns the Holocaust into talk about “A lot of people have suffered” what is happening is that he is closing that aperture. The next step is to say that mainly Americans are the victims. History then dies completely and we are trapped in myth.

    [...]

    When Bannon calls the press the main „opposition party“ that should make everyone concerned. This is not only intended to cheer up Trump supporters.

    When you say that the press is the opposition, than you are advocating a regime change in the United States. When I am a Republican and say the Democrats are the opposition, we talk about our system. If I say the government is one party and the press is the opposition, then I talk about an authoritarian state. This is regime change.

    Last week Trump called those who take part in demonstrations “thugs” and “paid protestors”. This doesn’t show respect for First Amendment right, it sounds more like Putin.

    That is exactly what the Russian leadership does. The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the Republic. The point is to bring down the Republic. You can disagree with them. but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: „We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.“ When the president says that it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the Republic. You are also seducing people into a world of permanent internet lying and [away] from their own experiences with other people. Getting out to protest, this is something real and I would say something patriotic. Part of the new authoritarianism is to get people to prefer fiction and inaction to reality and action. People sit in their chairs, read the tweet and repeat the clichés: “yes, they are thugs” instead of “it is normal to get out in the streets for what you believe.” He is trying to teach people a new behavior: You just sit right where you are, read what I say and nod your head. That is the psychology of regime change.

    Today’s media environment is very different from the 1930s, everything happens so fast.

    This is part of what contemporary authoritarians do: They overwhelm you with bad news and try to make you depressed and say with resignation: “Well, what can i do?”. I think it is better to limit yourself. Read the news for half an hour a day, but don’t spend the whole day obsessing about it. Americans have to pick one thing to be confident about, and then act on it. If you care about and know about refugees, the press, global warming – choose one and talk with people around you about it. Nobody can do everything but everyone can do a little bit. And people doing their little bit will meet others doing the same, and the depression lifts.