Trump adviser tells Lou Dobbs the “all-out coordinated attack on abortion in America” is “a great thing to witness”
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President Donald Trump recently announced Mark Morgan as his new pick for ICE director. Media coverage of Morgan has often focused on his role as head of Border Patrol under former President Barack Obama, but he has recently become a fixture in right-wing media, particularly on Fox News.
Of Note: Trump's new ICE appointee Mark Morgan has been a fixture on Fox News lately. He started appearing on the network regularly in January and has been on at least 49 times so far this year.
— Angelo Carusone (@GoAngelo) May 5, 2019
Morgan appeared at least 49 times on Fox News in 2019 prior to Trump’s announcement. Fourteen of those appearances were on Tucker Carlson’s show, where Morgan, for instance, defended migrant children being kept in cages.
Morgan has also frequently appeared on Fox Business, including on Trump adviser Lou Dobbs' show. Dobbs and Morgan recently called for loosening the rules of engagement along the Mexican border to allow the use of more deadly force. In an interview with Fox Business host Stuart Varney, Morgan downplayed the severity of a situation in which vigilantes along the Mexican border detained migrants at gunpoint; subsequently, one of the vigilantes was reported to have said, “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.”
And Morgan hasn’t just given commentary on border issues -- he’s also weighed in on things like the staged Jussie Smollett attack and special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Trump has hired a number of former Fox pundits into his administration.
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Right-wing media, predominantly Fox News figures, use the end of the Mueller investigation to call yet again for investigations into Hillary Clinton, President Obama, the FBI, and more
On Thursday, April 18, the Department of Justice released a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference. Since then, several right-wing media figures, including hosts, anchors, and guests of President Donald Trump’s favorite TV channels Fox News and Fox Business, have declared that now is the time to investigate the investigators. (Republican National Committee spokesperson Elizabeth Harrington has also joined the chorus.)
New York Post’s Michael Goodwin: “The whole thing about the Russian dossier, the use of it by the FBI, [former FBI Director] James Comey, [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, [former CIA Director John] Brennan, [former national security adviser] Susan Rice, on and on. All of their actions are subject, we hope, to a true investigation.”
The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman: “How did this begin? How did this use of surveillance tools against the party out of power get started? And that's really what we haven't learned. ... Now I think we'll learn more about how the government came to spy on a political opposition.”
Fox Business host Stuart Varney: “I would simply like to know what did President Obama know about an ongoing spying operation into a competitor's political presidential campaign? … Will we find out what Hillary was doing?”
Fox contributor John Sununu: “When Lindsey Graham starts his investigation on the Clinton side of the issue, [Democrats] will have a difficult time with dealing that. And the more and more they get into the weeds, the more and more the American public is going to understand how political they are rather than trying to get legislation passed.”
Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk on The Story: “I actually believe you cannot allow the people from the internal, high levels of the FBI to get away with what they did here. ... There’s a lot of information, a lot of questions that still needs to be answered because this should never be allowed to happen to any other president again.”
Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier: Baier falsely gave credence to the idea that investigators need to be investigated, saying, “We don't yet know about the origins of the investigation, the [inspector general] may shed some light on this, as other investigations in the early stages.”
Fox contributor Katherine Timpf on Outnumbered: “We already have evidence that there were some people who were involved in this investigation who were politically motivated. They wanted to get the president. That's not something we wondering about, it's something we know. So knowing that, why wouldn’t you want to know more?”
Outnumbered co-host Lisa Boothe: “I would love to know at what point Mueller knew there was no collusion and why the investigation went past that point. I question the origins of the investigation to begin with. ... I question all of it, and I sincerely think we need to get to the bottom of it.”
Fox Business’ David Asman on Fox's Outnumbered: “It’s probably one reason why they are attacking [Attorney General William] Barr now is because they are afraid of what he might dig up as a result of investigating all this.”
Fox Business host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: “If there is a possibility that the deep state exists and it is so politicized, and at the president's disposal, shouldn't all of the people running for president as Democrats want an investigation to make sure what happened in 2016 doesn't happen in 2020?”
Breitbart’s Alana Mastrangelo responded to a Trump tweet about the Mueller report with “Now let’s investigate the investigators.”
Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce on Varney & Co.: “We aren't fatigued with justice. We want it, and I think that especially in this case we know this investigation was based on something that didn't occur.”
Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Will we ever see these underlying documents? We've got transparency from the Trump team, … and we still don't really know, do we, what happened with Comey and the edits and why he came out into a press conference?”
Ingraham: “Every effort should be made to investigate the origins and motivations of this Mueller investigation.”
Fox News contributor Trey Gowdy on Fox's The Story: “I would think everybody would want to know was there sufficient factual predicate for the launching -- the initiating of this investigation? … What you will see is Republicans going to investigate the origins.”
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs: “Everyone involved, the Dems who funded it, the Christopher Steeles and the law firms, that aided and abetted in this farcical attempt to overthrow a president … should be in orange jumpsuits.”
Dobbs: Barr is “the first attorney general I've seen in decades who, I believe, has the capacity and the talent and the integrity to … clean up this mess that is the leadership of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”
Lou Dobbs Tonight guest Harmeet Dhillon: “We are going to see more leadership changes [at DOJ] I hope, and that Bill Barr is able to be given all the rope and the ammunition that he needs to go forward.”
Fox regular Joe diGenova: “It is now abundantly clear that in order to restore the integrity of DOJ and FBI, there has to be a full-scale federal grand jury of the Obama DOJ and FBI, CIA, and director of national intelligence."
The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway on Fox's Special Report: “The country was basically held hostage by a collusion theory -- a theory that the president of the United States was a foreign agent. … It was a very negative thing. There needs to be accountability; we are being given indications that there will be accountability for this.”
Hemingway on Fox & Friends: “We should continue to investigate, but what we should investigate is how [the media and Democrats] were able to get away with saying [that there was collusion] for so many years without evidence, and how it was that our own law enforcement and intelligence agencies were taken over by this.”
Fox host Jesse Watters: “They used false information to spy on the Trump campaign, so that needs to be investigated. … Why aren't reporters at Chappaqua [NY] right now, waiting for Hillary?”
Fox Nation personalities Diamond & Silk: “The government officials that participated, that masterminded, that orchestrated all of this here collusion mess -- they need to be brought to justice. It’s time to investigate the investigators.”
Fox guest Francey Hakes: “How did this entire investigation get started, and did the US government actually run an asset at George Papadopoulos to plant information that was then later used as the basis of the entire investigation? … Public corruption must be examined.”
A Hannity panel comprising Fox’s Gregg Jarrett, right-wing journalist Sara Carter, and former independent counsel Ken Starr agreed that the investigators need to be investigated. Jarrett: “If I were James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Brennan Clapper, I wouldn't be sleeping very well tonight or many nights to come.”
Fox host Sean Hannity: “If any of this started before July 31, the alleged beginning of the FBI's collusion investigation, we need to know when it started. And finally, we need to know this big question: What did he know? What did President Obama know? And when did he know it?”
Hannity on his radio show: “Is Robert Mueller going to be reappointed and maybe he’ll hire only Republican donors? … Maybe they'll hire Sean Hannity. ... This is now the beginning of the real investigation into the investigators.”
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow on Hannity: “For the country’s sake, we don’t let this happen again -- ever again. When a situation like this -- that’s why you got to find out how you started. I think the attorney general is going to do the right thing.”
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Before setting out to allegedly perpetrate what’s believed to have been the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history, the Tree of Life synagogue shooter went on Gab to write a post in which he blamed Jewish people in the U.S. “for bringing in an invasion of nonwhite immigrants.” In the past 24 hours, Fox has peddled the same talking point twice during its prime-time programming, showing that the network is not above promoting the same baseless, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that have motivated violent extremists.
On the April 10 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity hosted conspiracy theory-monger Glenn Beck, who said the migrant caravans were “directly” funded by “George Soros and others” (George Soros is Jewish). Beck then directly addressed President Donald Trump -- a common practice at Fox -- saying the caravans are “an assault on the republic” and that “we can’t fight the enemy if we won’t call them by name.”
And while fearmongering about immigration during the April 10 edition of his show, Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs claimed “left-wing money, a lot of groups” and “the United Nations” (which the Tree of Life shooter also mentioned) were behind caravans of migrants headed for the U.S. border.
Though Dobbs didn’t specifically mention Jewish people, he has peddled the conspiracy theory of Jewish groups funding migrant caravans enough times that “left-wing money” has become a dog whistle for his intended audience. Dobbs and others at Fox News repeatedly peddled this conspiracy theory in 2018 with little repercussion. After Judicial Watch’s Chris Farrell claimed on Dobbs’ show that the “Soros-occupied State Department” was helping fund a group of migrants traveling to the United States, people widely criticized the show, with Variety noting that “citations like that are typically meant to allude to Jews,” and Fox condemned the statement, banning Farrell from the network. But soon after, Dobbs showed the hollowness of Fox’s attempt to curtail anti-Semitism on its airwaves; as Dobbs tried to wrap up a segment in another episode, one of his guests said criticizing Soros was not anti-Semitic. Dobbs laughed, adding, “I’m certainly glad that I didn’t just break away there.”
Additionally, Dobbs’ baseless comments about migrants have been celebrated in the past by conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, whose site Infowars pushed the conspiracy theory that the United Nations and George Soros is behind the “migrant caravan invasion.”
After the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and even after Soros himself was directly targeted with a pipe bomb, right-wing media figures continued their attacks on him. Dobbs posted a tweet, which he later deleted, saying, “Fake News--Fake Bombs.”
Fox Business host and Trump sycophant Lou Dobbs last night falsely stated that 55% of Americans approve of President Donald Trump. Dobbs was using the results of a Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service survey that had actually found 55% of registered likely voters had an unfavorable view of Trump. But a graphic on Lou Dobbs Tonight incorrectly showed 55% overall approval of the president. Trump, who regularly watches Dobbs’ show and often speaks with him on policy matters, shared the graphic with his Twitter followers as “great news.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2019
As reporters and the director of the institute noted, the survey had found that Trump’s approval rating was at only 43%.
Have to fact check this graphic
Yes, the @GUPolitics poll found a 58% approval for Pres Trump on the economy
BUT...that # on the LEFT is not correct.
-40% favorable view
— Karen Travers (@karentravers) April 11, 2019
I’m the Director of @GUPolitics & this graphic is incorrect.
The Battleground Poll shows 58% approval on the economy.
But it shows only 43% overall approval, & 52% disapproval.
— Mo Elleithee (@MoElleithee) April 11, 2019
Not only was the graphic incorrect, but Dobbs himself repeated the false figure three times:
LOU DOBBS (HOST): The president’s victories are showing up in the polls. According to a Georgetown University poll, the president's overall approval is now 55% -- let’s hear that, 55% -- and the approval rating for the president's handling of the economy, a robust 58%. Fifty-five percent is pretty robust too, don't you think?
On April 7, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned from her role in the Trump administration after weeks of Fox Business host Lou Dobbs urging President Donald Trump to fire her.
In her time with the Trump administration, Nielsen became the face of many of Trump’s most hardline anti-immigration policies, including infamously separating children from their families and subsequently failing to reunite many of them, destroying families and leaving children traumatized. CBS reported that her ousting was part of a “massive immigration overhaul, spearheaded by Stephen Miller,” one of Trump’s most extreme advisers on immigration.
Nielsen’s decision to leave the White House comes as many are questioning the role and influence Fox has over Trump’s decision-making. It has been widely reported that Trump values Dobbs’ opinion -- according to The New Yorker, Dobbs has even “been patched into Oval Office meetings, by speakerphone, to offer policy advice.”
Dobbs has been urging Trump to fire Nielsen for weeks, often calling her a “failure” and criticizing her leadership for what he perceives as not doing enough to enforce the president’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. It’s clear from Dobbs’ comments that he strongly supports Trump’s anti-immigration agenda and believes Nielsen has been an obstacle impeding Trump’s ability to secure the border:
Dobbs criticized Nielsen for referring to asylum seekers as “vulnerable populations and migrants” instead of more derogatory terms. Dobbs asked his guest, “Does language matter anymore? Doesn’t she understand what the impact of that is?” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 4/3/19]
Discussing a conversation he had with Nielsen, Dobbs said that she seems “impeded by the system” and that “that government is not moving with urgency at all.” His guest, Fox contributor Ed Rollins, said that “she needs to be tough, needs to crack the whip, she needs to implement what the president has talked about.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 4/3/19]
Dobbs claimed the “Department of Homeland Security’s failure to gain control of the border crisis is the result of the failed and ineffective leadership” of Nielsen. He also criticized her for “only now” asking for help when Trump issued “that national emergency declaration six weeks ago.” He also complained about her decision to refer to migrants as vulnerable and not “illegal immigrants or illegal aliens.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 4/2/19]
Dobbs criticized Nielsen for describing the border crisis as a “system-wide breakdown” of “the system she is in charge of.” Dobbs added that “she appears to be more a part of the problem than the solution.” He also said that the “president’s strong stand to secure the border” is in “contrast to that of his secretary of Homeland Security,” criticizing her for waiting “six weeks after president had declared a national emergency on our border with Mexico before she sought authorities and resources to deal with the crisis.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 4/2/19]
Dobbs claimed that Nielsen is “flailing, and her department appears utterly paralyzed under ineffectual leadership.” He added that she is “so desperate that she’s trying to raise, it seems, a posse of DHS employee volunteers to help secure the border.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 3/29/19]
Dobbs complained that undocumented immigrants are “being allowed in by Kirstjen Nielsen and the DHS that has decided that they are there to tell you about how difficult their job is, instead of getting it done.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 3/28/19]
Dobbs asserted that Nielsen “obviously doesn’t know what she is doing” and called her handling of the border “quite a spectacle.” He called it “incredible to have the people who are responsible for securing that borders crying about the fact that” the border is in “meltdown.” He asked his guest, Bristol County, MA, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, “Why in the world is Kirstjen Nielsen not fixing it?” Hodgson pointed out that the “she is trying to fix it” but “the problem is not Kirstjen Nielsen, it’s Congress.” Dobbs responded by asking, “What would the folks in your county say if you said, ‘I'm trying to enforce the law, I’m trying to take charge.’ This just isn’t acceptable at any point. … It’s just preposterous to me what we’re accepting here.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 3/28/19]
Dobbs said that the border is an “utter disaster” and complained that “we have DHS officials walking around whining about having to protect the border,” adding that it’s “absolutely dereliction of their duty.” He also said Nielsen is “an example of someone who is in over their head.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 3/27/19]
Dobbs said that the Department of Homeland Security “is thumbing their nose” at Trump and “looks like a complete joke.” He added that Nielsen is “utterly unqualified for the job.” He concluded by saying, “Kirstjen Nielsen has done everything but rejoin the Obama mantra of ‘strategic patience.’ My God, it’s a disgrace.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 3/27/19]
Dobbs claimed DHS is “surrendering our border” and Nielsen is “whining about the inability of her department to protect the homeland despite the president’s best efforts.” Dobbs hit Nielsen for her past, saying that her “most notable career accomplishments were serving in several staff roles in the George W. Bush administration.” Dobbs added that “Secretary Nielsen is in way over her head” and claimed that the “crisis on our southern border” shows “the inability -- or the refusal -- of DHS to secure that border.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 3/27/19]
Dobbs told his guest that “when the DHS secretary cannot manage the system, cannot defend the border, then it has to be a matter of political will on her part.” He added that Nielsen is “failing at her job.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 3/18/19]
Dobbs asked Rollins, “Why doesn’t he fire Kirstjen Nielsen? Why doesn’t he fire his secretary?” He added that “she’s supposed to be guarding that border, and I don’t want to hear about how tough it is.” Dobbs concluded by warning Trump “if the president doesn’t start firing people for incompetence and absolutely just anti-Trump conduct -- I mean, this goes beyond not doing the job, they’re fighting this president.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 3/6/19]
While discussing Nielsen in December, Dobbs told his guest that “I personally think ... up until very recently, she had to be almost forced to carry out her duties as secretary of Homeland Security. [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 12/20/18]
Dobbs asked his guest if Nielsen is “strong enough to deal with this crisis.” His guest, former acting ICE Director Tom Homan, began to defend her and the president before Dobbs cut her off and said, “I’m asking you a very simple question, Tom.” Homan again said she is “strong enough to do it” with the president, and Dobbs cut him off again to emphasize that “I have no question about the president. My question is about his secretary of Homeland Security.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 10/30/18]
In recent months, Fox’s rhetoric on immigration and President Donald Trump’s demand for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border has regularly included racism, nativism, and other anti-immigrant commentary. It’s no secret that Trump frequently watches Fox News for advice and information, often consulting Fox personalities like Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs when making key policy decisions, and that he regularly tweets about Fox segments throughout the day, particularly the morning show Fox & Friends. As a result, Trump frequently takes the advice of Fox personalities over his own advisers -- according to The New Yorker, “White House aides confirm that Trump has repeatedly walked away from compromises at the last moment because Fox hosts and guests opposed the deals.”
Trump’s tendency to defer to Fox News makes the racist, nativist, and anti-immigration rhetoric that has become a feature of the network particularly problematic. Fox has given airtime in 2019 to toxic narratives that include demonization of immigrants, descriptions of of people seeking asylum as an “invasion,” support for the myth that Democrats want to increase undocumented immigration as a way to secure votes illegally, and concerns that immigrants are replacing America’s white population -- a common and dangerous white supremacist trope.
And it appears Fox’s rhetoric in general is influencing the president’s decisions on policies related to the border and immigration. Trump’s recent proposals to declare a national emergency to build a border wall, close the southern border, and cut aid to three Central American countries have all been praised at Fox News even though prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill oppose them.
Here’s what Fox figures and guests have been saying about the border and immigration lately:
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After Attorney General William Barr released the summary of the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, pro-Trump media, feeling vindicated, immediately launched into attacks on news organizations that credulously covered the developments over the past two-plus years. Right-wing media figures were angry, and many demanded apologies.
Partisans within President Donald Trump’s inner circle took the narrative that Trump and American people were owed an apology and ran with it. During a March 25 appearance on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani went off on host Chris Cuomo, demanding apologies from CNN President Jeff Zucker, NBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
“You guys on this network have tortured this man for two years with collusion, and nobody has apologized for it,” Giuliani said. “Apologize for the overreaction to collusion,” he demanded.
In an interview that morning on NBC’s Today, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I think Democrats and the liberal media owe the president and they owe the American people an apology. They wasted two years and created a massive disruption and distraction.”
During his March 25 radio show, Sean Hannity made a similar demand, asking, “Where is [the media’s] retraction, where are their apologies for all of their no-source, anonymous-source hysteria and insanity?” During that night’s edition of his Fox News show, Hannity continued his tirade against the media:
Jeff Zucker, head of CNN, are you going to apologize for your network's constant stream of lies and hysteria? Phil Griffin, NBC, are you going to apologize for the conspiracy theories you allow to be spread every second of every day on NBC? What about Jeff Bezos, Marty Baron, you going to come clean over the front page deception every day in The Washington Post? Will you at least stop referring to far-left, collusion-obsessed hack Jennifer Rubin and others as conservatives? They're not. Is The New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, is he going to give back the paper's Pulitzer Prize for collusion reporting given they were caught now reporting a hoax? They all lied to we the people day after day for two-plus years. In reality, we know there will never be a mea culpa from any of these major fake news outlets. They’ll just move on to the next group of lies. They'll never apologize. They'll never retract their lies, their anonymous sourcing, their endless speculation. They are hopeless. Journalism, I told you in 2007, it's dead; it's buried. And it's not something that I said lightly. They have earned their horrible reputations.
During that night’s edition of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, guest and Trump defender Alan Dershowitz criticized CNN, saying that he was “banned” from the network for “being too fair” to Trump. “I have been right from day one and almost all the other pundits and professors have just been dead wrong. It’s time for them to fess up. It’s time for CNN to issue an apology.”
Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight did the same, with host Dobbs calling for AT&T, CNN, Comcast, NBC, MSNBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post to face “a reckoning” for covering the Mueller investigation. They have, in Dobbs’ words, “a responsibility to apologize to the American people.”
But credible reporting on the Mueller investigation should not be confused with the exaggerated claims of pundits and commentators -- a point lost in right-wing media's bad-faith calls for news outlets to “apologize” for their coverage.
Hannity’s blistering monologue included cutaways to clips from CNN and MSNBC shows, and shots of headlines from outlets such as The Washington Post, HuffPost, and Vox. A quick glance at the examples shown and it becomes clear that it’s opinion, commentary, and analysis that Hannity is taking issue with. He’s not alone, either.
In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Federalist co-founder Sean Davis railed against what he called “a catastrophic media failure,” writing, “America’s blue-chip journalists botched the entire story, from its birth during the presidential campaign to its final breath Sunday—and they never stopped congratulating themselves for it.”
Davis’ examples of this “botched” story included unspecified issues with The New York Times and The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting, a Time magazine cover illustration, an opinion piece by New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, and a Twitter thread from New York Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman.
In the instances where Davis did correctly pinpoint factual errors, the news organizations that first reported them had issued corrections. Davis took issue with a CNN report about an email to the Trump campaign regarding WikiLeaks’ hacked documents, but he failed to note that CNN had very publicly corrected the story. He hit CNN for speculating on what former FBI Director James Comey would say in his testimony before Congress but ignored that CNN had issued a correction and updated its story. He pointed to a disputed 2016 Slate article about servers in Trump Tower but didn’t note the author’s follow-up reporting on the subject providing additional analysis. He lambasted a Washington Post report for saying that Russia penetrated the U.S. electric grid but missed that the paper’s correction stated that Russia actually hacked a Vermont utility company and the overhyped headline had been updated.
Outside of Davis’ examples, other notable instances of flawed reporting included a June 2017 CNN story about Anthony Scaramucci’s possible ties to the Russian Direct Investment Fund and ABC correspondent Brian Ross’ incorrect report that former national security adviser Michael Flynn would testify that Trump instructed him to contact Russia during the 2016 campaign. CNN pulled its story and the three journalists involved in its publication resigned (including two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Lichtblau, whom CNN had lured away from The New York Times months earlier). Similarly, ABC suspended Brian Ross over his report and unceremoniously parted ways with him months later, ending his 24-year run at the network.
In short: At reputable news organizations, mistakes in reporting come with real consequences. This is all the more reason to ignore right-wing calls for some monolithic “media” to apologize.
It’s worth considering what role opinion journalism should play in our modern media ecosystem. Should the serious reporting conducted by reporters at a place like CNN be devalued because of an opinion expressed by a panelist during one of the network’s prime-time shows? And do viewers even know the difference?
There’s a concerted effort to conflate fact and opinion, and it’s been going on for some time. Take, for example, the Republican National Committee’s publication of the results of Trump’s “Fake News Awards” in January 2018. The No. 1 item on the list was Paul Krugman’s prediction that a Trump presidency would be disastrous for the economy. No matter one’s opinion on Trump, the GOP, the economy, or Krugman himself, his prediction wasn’t “fake news” as predictions are, by their very nature, not hard news. Similarly, despite the rage directed at pollsters and analysts for not forecasting a Trump victory in 2016, their analysis was not “fake news” either.
In 2018, the Pew Research Center published a sobering report based on a survey of 5,035 U.S. adults. Respondents were presented with 10 statements (five facts and five opinions) and asked to categorize them. Examples of factual statements included “President Barack Obama was born in the United States” and “ISIS lost a significant portion of its territory in Iraq and Syria in 2017.” Opinion statements included “Democracy is the greatest form of government,” “Abortion should be legal in most cases,” and “Immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally are a very big problem for the country today.”
Pew found that just 26 percent of respondents were able to correctly label the five factual statements as such, and only 35 percent could correctly categorize the opinion statements. Somewhat worryingly, those least likely to be able to discern fact from opinion were also those with low trust in national news organizations, illustrating a vicious cycle of ignorance and distrust.
While distinguishing fact from opinion might seem simple to some of us, it’s clearly a problem for many Americans, as groups like Pew and the American Press Institute have identified. In calling for broad apologies, Trump-aligned media are exploiting this point of ignorance. In truth, very little fact-based reporting on the Mueller investigation was demonstrably wrong.
Hannity, Dobbs, Dershowitz, Davis, and the many others pushing the “apologize” narrative in right-wing media are banking on the pressure of their audiences’ outrage to make a dent in mainstream media credibility. In turn, this will force CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other news organizations that have been critical of the administration to take some sort of action in response.
Instead of caving to demands to apologize and soften coverage, these groups should take a different approach altogether.
In April 2018, The New York Times announced a change to the way opinion pieces would appear both online and in print. The changes included a new and distinctive typeface exclusive to the opinion section, increase in the size of the “opinion” header, and mini-bios for authors at the top of each article. “These product improvements are the first in a series of iterative changes to increase the clarity and impact of the presentation of Times Opinion to match the scope and ambition of its journalism,” read the paper’s announcement.
In a June 2017 op-ed for USA Today, Sally Kohn wrote about the challenge she faces as a CNN contributor:
When I appear on CNN, where I’m a paid commentator, there’s no sign that flashes above my head informing viewers that I’m offering opinions — and that there’s an important difference between me and the conservative commentators I’m on arguing with compared to the CNN reporters who come before or after us on a show and describe the facts of the news as it’s unfolding. This difference may seem obvious to some people. It’s not obvious to everyone. And that’s a problem.
Every single time I go on television, I get a tweet or an email calling me “the most biased reporter on CNN” or something to that effect. In fact, I get a lot of these comments. Often. Which suggests that we’ve done a bad job of explaining to the public that there is a difference between news and opinion and who on their screen is there for which purpose. When I get these confused criticisms, I try to always write back explaining that it is my job to be biased. I’m a commentator. I am literally paid to express my point of view. Bias is basically the job description.
The cable news equivalent of the Times making tweaks to fonts and formatting would be to clearly label guests and contributors in a way that informs viewers that the perspectives being shared are opinions. While it would almost certainly make for a clunkier broadcast, it could serve as a gentle nudge in the direction of educating viewers.
Maybe the best thing for the reputation of news media overall would be fewer opinion segments, fewer panels, and fewer op-eds in general. Yes, it is a very tough industry, and yes, it’s controversial op-eds and on-air shouting matches that drive attention and revenue. Even so, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this model is good for the public’s overall understanding of what’s happening in the world. Perhaps the best response to bad-faith calls for apologies over justifiable coverage is simply to invest more in straight journalism.
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