Chuck Todd: Democrats "would have more credibility" in Christine Blasey Ford hearing if they weren't "coming across as a support group"
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Media failed to mention details of Kavanaugh’s formative years that lend credence to accusations against him
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley Kavanaugh, gave an interview to Fox News in an effort to clean up his image after two women reported him for sexual misconduct in the last two weeks. Coverage of the interview from broadcast morning shows and major newspapers has aided Kavanaugh’s public relations effort by parroting his weak defenses while omitting critical information about his background.
On September 16, The Washington Post published an interview with Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students in the 1980s. On September 23, The New Yorker published a story detailing a separate allegation from Deborah Ramirez, one of Kavanaugh’s classmates at Yale University, who said, as The New Yorker described it, that Kavanaugh “exposed himself” and “thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away” at “a drunken dormitory party” during the 1983-84 school year.
On September 24, Kavanaugh and his wife took to Fox News to respond to the allegations. ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today, as well as newspapers including The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post, uncritically echoed Kavanaugh’s responses, while neglecting to mention important details and follow-up reporting that seem to lend credibility to the allegations against him. Specifically, media described the interview as “deeply personal” and Kavanaugh as “emotional,” and fixated on details like his claim that he “did not have sexual intercourse” during the years in question without ever acknowledging a difference between sexual intercourse and sexual assault.
Moreover, in their one-sided reporting on Kavanaugh’s unprecedented interview, media largely omitted relevant background reporting on his actions and environment as a young man. While a few reports included quotes from Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate at Yale which characterized the nominee as “a heavy drinker” who was “aggressive and belligerent” when drunk, media largely failed to highlight the misogynistic and boorish culture that Kavanaugh reportedly participated in at Georgetown Prep. A “former student” who attended the school with Kavanaugh told HuffPost:
That was just normal then. It was an attitude where “No” didn’t necessarily mean “I’m going to stop.” It meant “I’m going to keep going,” and “I’m going to keep going because I’m privileged and I’m allowed to and I’m not going to get in trouble for it.”
Kavanaugh joked about the school’s reputation during a 2015 speech, saying, “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.” Moreover, almost every report on Kavanaugh’s interview failed to include details about Mark Judge -- the only alleged witness to Ford’s assault and Kavanaugh’s friend from Prep with a history of disturbing views about women -- or about Kavanaugh’s time at Yale, where the Supreme Court nominee was a member of the notoriously misogynistic Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
Media’s failure to include these critical details in their reporting on Kavanaugh’s sham of an interview not only boosts Fox’s one-sided messaging, but it also assists Kavanaugh in rehabilitating his reputation and leaves audiences in the dark, denying them relevant information that lends credibility to Ford and Ramirez’s accounts.
A presidential media assault on the president’s self-incriminating words
The president and his attorneys are not subtle. Caught up in the grinding gears of the Russia investigation, they’ve apparently decided that whatever legal strategy they’ve adopted (if they have one) must be complemented by a loud, clanking, and incessant media blitz to exonerate the president in the court of public opinion. And so they go on TV -- constantly -- to proclaim Trump’s innocence and endlessly litigate the evidence that suggests otherwise.
By watching how they communicate, you can suss out clues to which issues are causing the president and his lawyers the most grief. At the moment, for whatever reason, Trump and his team seem preoccupied with the idea that the president might have admitted to obstruction of justice when he told NBC’s Lester Holt last year that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he fired former FBI Director James Comey. And so they’re trying to rewrite recent history by lying about the Holt interview and brazenly retconning Trump’s relationship with Comey.
Earlier this week, Trump gave an interview to The Hill that touched on the Justice Department’s Russia investigation and Trump’s controversial May 2017 firing of Comey. Trump spun a nonsensical story about how he wished he had fired Comey before he became president:
"If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries," Trump said. "I should have fired him right after the convention, say I don't want that guy. Or at least fired him the first day on the job. ... I would have been better off firing him or putting out a statement that I don't want him there when I get there.”
Trump obviously could not have fired Comey while Barack Obama was still in office. And while Trump did attack Comey during the 2016 campaign over the decision not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton over her email server, he revised his opinion of the FBI director after Comey reinitiated the email investigation just days before the election. “It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution,” Trump said at the time. “What he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.”
This week’s preposterous revisionism seems like an effort to establish a motive for Trump’s firing of Comey: specifically, that he always wanted to fire Comey, even before the FBI began investigating the Trump campaign’s Russia connections in July 2016. It probably hasn’t occurred to Trump that the fact that he didn’t fire Comey immediately is sufficient proof that this new story is bullshit. But logical inconsistency isn’t the problem he’s trying to solve -- he’s trying to unring the obstruction-of-justice bell he rang during his interview with Holt shortly after the Comey firing.
In that May 2017 interview, Trump told Holt that he had decided to fire Comey regardless of whatever recommendation he got from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it,” Trump said. “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”
Trump and his legal team have long been aware of the problem this interview presents and have employed various strategies to defuse it. The president has accused Holt of “fudging my tape” -- an incendiary and false allegation that the tape itself disproves. Trump’s lawyers have opted for a subtler, though still dishonest, strategy of arguing that Trump’s comments and the interview have been broadly misunderstood.
Jay Sekulow, who hosts a radio program when he’s not legally representing the president, argued on CNN on Wednesday evening that it is “not correct” to say Trump fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. “You know that when there are interviews, there are edits and there is a longer transcript,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “And I will just tell you without disclosing any detail, that when you review the entire transcript, it is very clear as to what happened and I'm not going to give you information on how we provided it, but in our professional discussions with the office of special counsel, we have addressed that on multiple occasions appropriately. And the evidence, when you look at the entire evidence, you don't see it.”
Sekulow was alluding to the Trump legal team’s communications with special counsel Robert Mueller, which specifically address the Holt interview. Trump’s lawyers argue that once you consider the entire interview transcript, “a fair reading of the president’s remarks” is that he fired Comey for incompetence and fully expected the Russia investigation to continue, perhaps even drag on longer.
The problem with this explanation is that it is strained to begin with, and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Trump would not have had to derail the entire investigation in order to obstruct it. Recall that Comey testified Trump asked for his loyalty in the months before he was fired, and Comey declined. Trump could have corrupted the probe by getting rid of Comey and installing someone friendlier who would investigate Russian election interference without investigating Trump.
This avenue was briefly open to the president until he sabotaged it by threatening Comey over Twitter with allegedly incriminating “tapes” of their conversations. That prompted Comey to leak personal memos describing his interactions with Trump in the hope that a special counsel would be appointed -- which is exactly what happened. Since then, Trump has been threatening the Justice Department, raging about the “witch hunt” special counsel probe, and lashing out at his hand-picked attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the investigation. The president has been unambiguously clear in his view that senior Justice Department officials should be protecting him.
Viewed in that context, the Lester Holt interview is incredibly damning of the president, which is why Trump and his attorneys are filling the airwaves with elaborate lies and misinterpretations about it. They recognize the danger of the president’s own words.
Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine have steered clear of reporting on Paul Manafort’s legal exposure, but they spent significant time on a judge’s strong words for the special counsel's team
On June 14, a federal judge revoked Manafort's bail for allegedly tampering with witnesses, landing him in federal prison until his trial.
President Donald Trump’s favorite Fox News shows are all but ignoring the cascade of damning reports regarding former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his legal troubles. Since May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller has been scrutinizing various relationships between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, appearing to focus closely on Manafort’s business history and associates. As the legal pressure ramps up against Manafort, the president’s propagandists at Fox News have sought to distance Manafort from Trump and, through selective reporting on Manafort’s legal troubles, discredit the probe against Trump’s former campaign manager.
Since the beginning of 2018, Manafort’s legal exposure has grabbed mainstream media attention, but the topic has not managed to break through on Trump’s favorite Fox News programs. Media Matters reviewed transcripts and video of the first editions of Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine after significant reports surfaced about new developments regarding the investigations into Manafort this year. We found little to no coverage of notable turns in the multiple high-profile legal cases against Trump’s former campaign manager. But we did find extensive coverage of the strong words a judge had for the special counsel’s team.
Manafort sues Department of Justice, alleging special counsel exceeded mandate
On January 3, NPR reported that Manafort was suing the Department of Justice, alleging that “Mueller's team has ‘diverged’ from its stated focus on potential collusion with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election and instead zeroed in on Manafort for ‘unrelated, decade-old business dealings’ in Ukraine.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development.
Company tied to former Manafort business associate and Russian oligarch sues Manafort and business partner
On January 10, according to NBC News, “a company controlled and funded by” Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin and one-time business associate of Manafort’s, sued Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates for allegedly “bilk[ing] his company by taking $1.1 million in capital and paying it to themselves.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the lawsuit.
Special counsel tells judge investigation has revealed “additional criminal conduct” by Manafort
On February 16, according to Politico, the special counsel’s office submitted a court filing informing a federal judge of “additional criminal conduct that [the office has] learned since the Court’s initial bail determination” on Manafort’s federal case that “includes a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing specifically. Though a guest on Fox & Friends, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, briefly mentioned general “charges” against Paul Manafort, he downplayed them as “unrelated to the campaign.”
Former Trump aide Richard Gates will “plead guilty” and has agreed to “testify against Manafort”
On February 18, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gates, who is also a former Trump campaign aide, would “plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days” and that he “made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort.” While the Times report was unverified by other media outlets at the time, according to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report. Fox & Friends briefly mentioned it but added that Catherine Herridge, Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent, “says, as of now, no deal, and Gates is not cooperating.” Five days later, The New York Times confirmed that Gates would plead guilty “to financial fraud and lying to investigators” and “has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel inquiry.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development. Fox & Friends all but ignored the report other than airing a 15-second teaser from co-host Brian Kilmeade (who did not identify how Gates is tied to the Trump campaign) and a softball question from co-host Steve Doocy during an interview with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Priebus also attempted to downplay the significance of the report, claiming Gates’ and Manafort’s conduct was “independent of the Trump campaign.”
Dutch lawyer tied to Manafort business partner sentenced to 30 days in federal prison for pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators
On April 3, according to CNN, Alex van der Zwaan, a “Dutch lawyer tied to former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates,” was “sentenced … to spend 30 days in prison and pay a $20,000 fine after he admitted to lying to” the special counsel regarding his “communications with Gates and a person with Russian intelligence ties.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity briefly mentioned the sentencing, downplaying it as having “nothing to do with Russia collusion,” and saying, “In reality, it looks like a giant waste of your money.” Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the sentencing, which was the first in the special counsel’s investigation. Fox & Friends twice mentioned the development in passing while attempting to downplay its significance, once saying the sentencing is “unrelated” to Trump and Russia.
Special counsel obtains seven new search warrants against Manafort
On April 5, CBS News reported that prosecutors on the special counsel’s team “revealed in court filings ... that they had obtained on March 9 seven new search warrants against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort” for “various properties” including “a storage unit, bank accounts, email addresses and devices.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.
Federal judge rejects attempt to get Manafort case dismissed
On May 15, according to Politico, a federal judge “rejected an attempt by Paul Manafort … to get an indictment against him dismissed by claiming that special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment was flawed.” The judge wrote that “given the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by and operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest” for U.S. law enforcement. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the judge’s decision.
Manafort’s former son-in-law cuts plea deal, will testify against Manafort
On May 17, Reuters reported that Manafort’s former son-in-law and “business partner” Jeffrey Yohai “cut a plea deal with the Justice Department” requiring him “to cooperate” with the special counsel’s prosecutors. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.
Special counsel accuses Manafort of attempting to tamper with witnesses
On June 4, according to The New York Times, “federal prosecutors ... accused President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of attempting to tamper with witnesses in his federal tax and money laundering case,” with one witness telling the FBI “that Mr. Manafort was trying to ‘suborn perjury.’” Yet again, according to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing, even though the charges leveled against Trump’s former campaign manager can mean up to 20 years in federal prison if he is found guilty.
Special counsel unseals additional charges against Manafort, Russian business associate
On June 8, according to NPR, the special counsel’s office “unsealed more charges” against Manafort, alleging “that a Russian partner of Manafort's, Konstantin Kilimnik, helped him try to persuade witnesses to lie to the jury when Manafort's case comes to trial in Washington, D.C., this autumn.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the additional round of charges against the president’s former campaign manager.
On May 4, according to The Washington Post, “a federal judge in Virginia ... sharply questioned the motivations of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s fraud prosecution of President Trump’s former campaign manager.” According to the report, Judge T.S. Ellis III told prosecutors on Mueller’s team, “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. … You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all covered the judge’s rebuke of the Mueller team extensively.
On the May 4 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity spent a total of 14 minutes and 46 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ comments, calling his remarks the “single biggest beatdown I have ever seen in my life by a judge.” The nearly 15 minutes Hannity devoted to Ellis’ comments were significantly more than the time he spent covering any development in the various cases against Manafort in 2018 combined, which totaled about 1 minute and 57 seconds.
On the May 5 edition of Justice with Judge Jeanine, host Jeanine Pirro spent a total of 15 minutes and 27 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ remarks. In contrast, Pirro did not mention any of the other stories regarding Manafort's legal troubles in 2018.
On the May 7 edition of Fox & Friends, the hosts devoted 11 minutes and 5 seconds to Judge Ellis’ comments over three hours of airtime. Fox & Friends spent a total of 2 minutes and 43 seconds on the other turns in the various cases against Manafort, and during those reports the hosts usually downplayed the events as “unrelated” to Russia or “independent from the Trump campaign.”
Given Manafort’s past and the people he has been willing to associate with professionally, it is no wonder Fox News’ chief Trump propagandists have attempted to distance the president from him. According to The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer, Manafort’s career was built on lobbying on behalf of “dictatorial governments in Nigeria, Kenya, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, among others.” Manafort’s experience representing repressive regimes eventually landed him a job in Ukraine, assisting the “former gangsters,” as Foer wrote, in the Party of Regions in improving their image domestically, eventually guiding pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych to presidential victory in 2010.
Fox News’ efforts to bury Manafort’s legal exposure seem to be having an impact. According to a recent survey conducted by Navigator Research, 59 percent of Americans are not aware that the special counsel’s investigation has uncovered any crimes, even though Mueller has amassed five guilty pleas and numerous indictments. Should the special counsel’s investigation turn up evidence that supports allegations of a criminal conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and foreign actors, Manafort would surely be implicated as a key player.
Suppressing reports regarding (arguably) the most corrupt member of Trump’s campaign team -- and following Fox’s usual playbook of downplaying and ignoring other consequential reporting on the special counsel’s investigation -- appears to be part of the network’s larger strategy to pre-emptively downplay any possible findings that could implicate the president and his campaign.
FRC and its president Tony Perkins have long fought LGBTQ equality abroad, including supporting Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC), was appointed commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal government commission dedicated to the “right to freedom of religion or belief abroad” that “makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.” Over the years, FRC has worked to push its anti-LGBTQ extremism in other countries, including Perkins personally defending an anti-gay bill in Uganda that could have punished sodomy by death. FRC has also spoken out against the LGBTQ-inclusive actions by the State Department under the Obama administration and has a long-established relationship with newly-confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who similarly has a record of anti-LGBTQ advocacy.
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Brokaw is the seventh NBCUniversal employee to be publicly named for sexual misconduct
On the night of April 26, new reporting at Variety and The Washington Post told the stories of two women who say they were sexually harassed by NBC special correspondent and former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw. Brokaw is the seventh employee of NBCUniversal to be publicly named in reports of sexual harassment since last October -- and these new accounts in Variety and the Post detail a workplace environment where rampant mistreatment of women has been tolerated or ignored.
The Washington Post’s Sarah Ellison wrote about former NBC war correspondent Linda Vester’s report that Brokaw “made unwanted advances toward her on two occasions in the 1990s” as well as a second unnamed woman’s report of inappropriate behavior by the former NBC anchor during the same decade. Variety published a video of Vester recounting her experience, along with a lengthy statement based on multiple interviews with her.
Both outlets included a statement from Brokaw, released through NBC, denying the allegations. He also sent a letter to colleagues disputing Vester’s accounts, calling her stories a “drive by shooting” and suggesting Vester wanted attention. In a letter to staff made public late this afternoon, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack acknowledged the reports about Brokaw's misconduct and said that NBC "take[s] allegations such as these very seriously." Lack also discussed ongoing internal efforts to review and change the workplace culture within the company.
While corporate leadership at NBCUniversal hasn't had much to say on the matter, its primary news outlets, NBC News and MSNBC, have frequently covered both reports in the hours since they were published.
NBC News has published one story on the Brokaw reports headlined “Tom Brokaw denies sexually harassing former NBC News colleague” and tweeted the story twice. NBC’s Today also discussed the reports multiple times this morning, including in a several-minute report from national correspondent Kate Snow. The segment covered new reporting on both Brokaw and former Today co-host Matt Lauer. (Ellison’s article included two previously unreported accounts of sexual harassment by Lauer in addition to a new statement from former colleague Ann Curry about a colleague who came to her to report harassment by Lauer.) The package also touched on NBC’s treatment of harassment more generally, and Snow ended it by noting that all employees, including herself, would be completing in-person training soon.
On MSNBC, Morning Joe did not mention the reports, but the network has covered the Brokaw story in some capacity nearly every hour since.
In the 9 a.m. hour, MSNBC Live host Stephanie Ruhle briefly reported on the allegations against Brokaw and noted that NBC News had declined to comment. In the 10 a.m. hour, MSNBC Live host Hallie Jackson similarly reported on the story.
In the 11 a.m. hour, Velshi & Ruhle featured MSNBC’s most in-depth segment so far on the Brokaw reports, including an interview with Post reporter Sarah Ellison:
In the 12 p.m. hour, Andrea Mitchell Reports aired a short package on the Brokaw allegations from Kate Snow. And in the 1 p.m. hour, MSNBC Live host Craig Melvin very briefly reported on the Brokaw story once again. Velshi again reported on the news about both Brokaw and Lauer during the 3 p.m. hour.
The new Washington Post reporting included on-the-record comments from former NBC anchors Ann Curry and Soledad O’Brien and information from at least 35 current and former NBC staffers. It detailed a workplace environment that discouraged people from reporting harassment -- in Curry’s case, a workplace that permitted “pervasive verbal sexual harassment." And Vester cited NBC’s decision not to conduct outside investigations for previous reports of harassment as a reason for her decision to come forward.
Brokaw is now the seventh NBCUniversal employee to be publicly named for sexual misconduct or gender-based harassment in the #MeToo era.
In October, two NBCUniversal employees were publicly reported for workplace sexual harassment: Mark Halperin and Ken Baker. In November, the senior vice president of booking for NBC news, Matt Zimmerman, was fired following reports of inappropriate conduct. Lauer was also first publicly named for incidents of harassment and assault in November. News of a prior harassment complaint against current MSNBC host Chris Matthews surfaced in December. NBC Sports personality Mike Tirico’s history of harassment reports from the 1990s also resurfaced in December.
NBC has conspicuously maintained silence on several reports related to harassment and assault by powerful men outside of its offices. In October, freelance NBC News correspondent Ronan Farrow publicly called out his employer for passing on his months-long investigation into multiple reports of harassment and assault by movie executive Harvey Weinstein; the piece eventually ran in The New Yorker, and Farrow was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for public service for his reporting earlier this month.
And back in fall 2016, the network sat on Access Hollywood footage depicting now-President Donald Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, which was eventually scooped by another outlet. NBC subsequently waffled on whether to fire its own employee, Billy Bush, for his participation in the damning exchange.
Lawyers and allied attorneys from influential anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have been working to pass and defend legislation in at least five states that allows child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people, among others, in adoption and foster care. In 2017, three states passed anti-LGBTQ adoption laws, and a sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions law in Mississippi also included provisions about adoption and foster care. Georgia’s state Senate passed a similar bill in February, to be considered by its House, and at least three other states are considering similar bills this year.
NBC News helps obfuscate the GOP’s culpability in mass shootings
The horrific mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, yesterday has once again touched off a discussion about what can be done to stop the escalating series of bloody massacres that only happen with this regularity in our country. The preordained answer, of course, is nothing. The Republican Party controls the White House and both houses of Congress, and its commitment to the National Rifle Association’s maximalist position on gun rights cannot be shaken -- not by dead schoolchildren, not by the fact that two members of Congress have been gunned down in the last decade, not by anything.
Opposition to strengthening gun laws emanates from the GOP, which has collectively made the political calculation that shot-up schools and ever-increasing body counts are an acceptable alternative to angering the gun lobby and pro-gun activists within its own base. This is not an exotic political argument: it’s a plain, uncontroversial truth that anyone who’s paid a moment’s attention to the politics of gun regulation can attest to.
And yet, in this morning’s First Read newsletter by NBC News, blame for the sclerotic toxicity of this situation was laid at the feet of “Washington,” which, the authors argue, is “fundamentally broken.” Here’s how the authors described the state of gun politics:
And what has Washington done to respond to this mass violence? Absolutely nothing. America’s political system has been incapable of coming up with ANY federal public policy to address mass shootings. In 2013, after the Newtown shooting, the U.S. Senate blocked a measure to require background checks for gun purchases. In 2017, after Las Vegas, Congress talked about banning bump stocks – accessories that makes rifles fire more rapidly – but ultimately did nothing.
As I noted on Twitter, this paragraph (and the rest of the piece) goes well out of its way to avoid placing blame for the dysfunction where it belongs: on the GOP. By framing the issue as one of “Washington” gridlock, NBC News is actually doing the real culprits a favor by obscuring the ghastly political game the GOP plays to maintain its grip on power while allowing more and more Americans to be cut down by bullets fired from legally obtained military-style weaponry. Calling this a “Washington” problem is horrendously misleading and needlessly seeks to remove partisanship from what is an absolutely partisan issue.
One of First Read’s authors, NBC News senior political editor Mark Murray, responded to my tweet and, in the process, accidentally helped underscore just how awful the piece’s framing is:
Just asking, but you want us to ignore that 4 Dem senators voted against background checks in 2013, while 4 GOP senator voted for it?
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) February 15, 2018
First of all, the vote tally on the 2013 background check filibuster wasn’t mentioned in his piece, so they did ignore it. Had they included that vote tally, it would have undermined their lazy framing. Yes, four Democratic senators voted against background checks in 2013 (as did then-majority leader Harry Reid, who supported the bill but voted no for procedural reasons). But those four Democratic senators stood alongside forty-one Republicans who voted down the measure. So the filibuster would have been sustained regardless of how those Democrats voted, which demonstrates that meaningful gun safety legislation is impossible to pass at the federal level so long as Republicans maintain any measure of control.
That gets us back to the original, uncontroversial point: Republicans are the problem when it comes to legislation addressing mass shootings. There is no reason to avoid stating it plainly.
States and municipalities across the country are increasingly considering measures to protect youth from the dangerous practice
Across the country, legislatures and policy makers are increasingly considering measures to protect LGBTQ minors from harmful conversion therapy, the discredited practice that seeks to turn LGBTQ people straight. As the efforts gain increased media attention, journalists have a responsibility to accurately portray the practice, including by noting that it has been called dangerous and ineffective by major medical associations, highlighting survivor voices when appropriate, avoiding spreading misinformation about the practice, and otherwise following best practices in reporting on conversion therapy.
A Media Matters study of coverage of a successful county-wide conversion therapy ban in Palm Beach County, FL, found that broadcast outlets there featured considerably more voices supportive of the harmful practice and largely failed to note that the practice has been thoroughly discredited and that sexuality cannot be forcibly changed. Here's what journalists can do to avoid similar traps in their own reporting on conversion therapy:
According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), nine states, Washington, D.C., and dozens of municipalities have active laws protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, which is also sometimes called “reparative therapy,” “ex-gay therapy,” or “sexual orientation change efforts.” Governors from both sides of the aisle have signed bills banning the dangerous practice, with four Republican governors and five Democratic governors passing bans in their states, but the Movement Advancement Project has estimated that current bans protect only about 27 percent of LGBTQ Americans. Had these bans not been in place, an additional 6,000 LGBTQ youth ages 13-17 would have undergone conversion therapy "from a licensed health care professional before age 18," according to a January 2018 report released by the Williams Institute.
At least 17 states (Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington) are currently considering bills that would ban conversion therapy, and many municipalities have passed or are considering similar ordinances. The Trevor Project, the leading crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, is working to have legislation submitted in all 50 states to protect youth from the dangerous practice, and in 2017, senators reintroduced a bill, the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, that would have banned it nationwide. The bill, which did not come to a vote, was first introduced in 2015, aimed to classify conversion therapy as fraud, ultimately allowing state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the rule.
Many Americans are not aware of the prevalence of conversion therapy and may consider it mostly a problem of the past, but the groundbreaking January report by the Williams Institute estimated that approximately 20,000 LGBTQ youth, ages 13-17, will undergo conversion therapy in the United States before the age of 18 from a licensed professional in states that do not ban the practice. An additional 57,000 “will receive conversion therapy from religious or spiritual advisors before they reach the age of 18.” The report also estimated that approximately 698,000 LGBTQ adults have received conversion therapy at some point in their lives, including 350,000 who underwent it as adolescents.
The Williams Institute report also cited polling which found that conversion therapy is deeply unpopular, with only 8 percent of Americans believing that conversion therapy could change someone’s sexual orientation. At the state level, support for protecting LGBTQ youth from the dangerous practice is high; 71 percent of respondents to a poll in Florida, 64 percent of respondents to a Virginia poll, and 60 percent of respondents in a New Mexico poll supported a legal ban on conversion therapy.
There are a range of practices that fall under the umbrella of conversion therapy, from talk therapy to shock and aversion treatments, all of which are considered harmful. In their coverage of conversion therapy, journalists must resist pushing misinformation such as saying that the practice is harmless when it does not involve shock treatment or other blatantly physically harmful practices.
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), conversion therapy involves “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)’s #BornPerfect fact sheet described a few examples that would fall under the range of conversion therapy practices, noting, “while some counselors still use physical treatments like aversive conditioning, the techniques most commonly used include a variety of behavioral, cognitive, psychoanalytic, and other practices that try to change or reduce same-sex attraction or alter a person’s gender identity.” NCLR continued, “While these contemporary versions of conversion therapy are less shocking and extreme than some of those more frequently used in the past, they are equally devoid of scientific validity and pose serious dangers to patients.” Furthermore, in a 2009 report, the American Psychological Association detailed some aversive conversion therapy techniques, including, “inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis; providing electric shocks; or having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts.”
It is imperative that audiences understand that the entire range of such practices is dangerous and ineffective. For example, NBC News covered the report from the Williams Institute about conversion therapy, writing that the entire practice is “medically defunct” before noting that “currently, talk therapy is the most commonly used therapy technique,” though “some practitioners have also combined this with ‘aversion treatments,’ such as induced vomiting or electric shocks.”
While highlighting the range of practices associated with conversion therapy, journalists should avoid providing a platform for practitioners who claim conversion therapy is harmless because their practice does not include shock therapy. For example, Miami’s Fox affiliate WSVN 7News featured the testimony of local therapist Robert Otto who claims to help children with so-called “unwanted attractions”:
ROBERT OTTO: I don’t shock people. I don’t hook them up to a little buzzer and connect them to a wall socket and flip a switch if they have a wrong thought. I listen to them, and I help them understand how those thoughts happen and where they come from.
Though WSVN 7News’ segment followed Otto’s clip by noting that medical associations “oppose conversion therapy,” its audience may still inaccurately believe that conversion therapy is not dangerous when it does not involve physical pain. Talk therapy seeking to change sexual orientation or gender identity is still a dangerous form of conversion therapy.
Reporters covering efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy should always include that the practice has been debunked and rejected by all major medical associations as ineffective, harmful, and unscientific and that sexuality and gender identity cannot be forcibly changed.
The American Psychiatric Association’s official 2000 position statement on conversion therapy reaffirmed its 1998 position that “there is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of ‘reparative therapy’ as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation.” In addition, the organization wrote that it “opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, that is based on the assumption … that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation.” Similarly, the American Psychological Association released a 2009 resolution saying, “The APA concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation.” A division of the American Counseling Association known as the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling also found that attempts “to alter or change gender identities and/or the sexual orientation of transgender clients across the lifespan may be detrimental, life-threatening, and are not empirically supported.” International organizations also recognize the junk science behind conversion therapy; according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Therapies aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation have been deemed outside the scope of ethical practice.”
When discussing conversion therapy, journalists should highlight official statements and positions from major medical associations such as these. For example, FOX 4 News in Kansas City, MO, covered a recently introduced bill to ban conversion therapy statewide in Missouri, describing the practice as “widely seen as misguided, ineffective, and some say dangerous” and noting, “Medical experts say conversion therapy can inflict serious emotional harm, with direct links to depression, social isolation, and suicide risk.”
But despite widely accessible information about conversion therapy’s ineffectiveness, not all coverage includes this crucial fact. A Media Matters analysis of coverage of a ban in Palm Beach County, FL, found that only about 12 percent of segments mentioned that the practice has been debunked and that sexuality and gender identity cannot be forcibly changed.
Journalists have a responsibility to educate the public not just about the ineffectiveness of conversion therapy but also its harmful side effects and universal condemnation from major medical associations. According to HRC, “every major medical and mental health organization in the United States has issued a statement condemning the use of conversion therapy” because “there is significant anecdotal evidence of harm to LGBTQ people resulting from attempts to change their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
For example, in a review of studies on conversion therapy, the American Psychological Association wrote:
The reported negative social and emotional consequences [of conversion therapy] include self-reports of anger, anxiety, confusion, depression, grief, guilt, hopelessness, deteriorated relationships with family, loss of social support, loss of faith, poor self-image, social isolation, intimacy difficulties, intrusive imagery, suicidal ideation, self-hatred, and sexual dysfunction.
Additionally, the National Association of Social Workers has asserted that conversion therapy, “can lead to severe emotional damage”; the American Academy of Pediatrics has said that “it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation”; and the Pan-American Health Organization, a regional office of WHO, has noted, “There are many testimonies about the severe harm to mental and physical health that such ‘services’ can cause. Repression of sexual orientation has been associated with feelings of guilt and shame, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.”
Journalists should always note in their coverage that the practice has dangerous side effects. For instance, The Arizona Republic’s website AZCentral noted the American Psychiatric Association’s list of harmful effects associated with conversion therapy and highlighted the Trevor Project’s list of side effects, which includes "increased depression, increased suicidal ideation and increased substance abuse.” In a segment covering the recent ban in Broward County, FL, CBS4 News Miami highlighted that conversion therapy is “ineffective, dangerous, and harmful to kids.” In contrast, while covering Washington state’s efforts to ban conversion therapy, CBS affiliate KIRO 7 News failed to mention that the practice has been debunked and is harmful to recipients. Similar segments aired several times without providing appropriate context on the dangers of conversion therapy.
Media sometimes fall into the trap of providing a platform for conversion therapy proponents to spread misinformation about the practice, and outlets often fail to contextualize those figures’ affiliations and backgrounds. Journalists should resist allowing these proponents to spew misinformation in an attempt to show “both sides” of the story, particularly as the practice has been opposed by all major medical organizations.
When covering a proposed ban in Virginia, Fox 5 D.C. gave an extended platform to conversion therapy advocate and practitioner Christopher Doyle, who claims that he got rid of his “unwanted attractions.” The segment failed to mention that Doyle is a major so-called “ex-gay” advocate who runs a pro-conversion therapy group called The National Task Force for Therapy Equality (NTFTE) and is a consultant for another group called Equality and Justice for All. He also signed on to a “Dear Legislator 2018” letter urging legislators to oppose conversion therapy bans. Both groups have been involved with major anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom and a number of other anti-LGBTQ groups and hate groups. Fox 5 D.C.’s segment failed to give any information about the dangers or ineffectiveness of conversion therapy and only referred to Doyle as a “psychotherapist.” Introducing the segment, reporter Ronica Cleary echoed his false point that these bans “do not help minors and can actually make the situation worse,” and throughout the segment, Doyle misinformed about the nature of conversion therapy, including saying, “It’s not licensed professional counselors that are doing bad work, it’s religious fanatics.” Doyle’s remark is in stark contrast to the Williams Institute, which has estimated that 20,000 LGBT youth “will receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18.”
Similarly, NBC 12News in Phoenix, AZ, featured “California- and Texas-based therapist” David Pickup without context, where he falsely claimed that “there is no proof of harm.” The segment explicitly said that it would show “both sides of the issue," before featuring his comments. Pickup is a board member of pro-conversion therapy group the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and works closely with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, in addition to being linked to Doyle’s group NTFTE. According to NCLR, NARTH encourages its members “to consider techniques that include hypnosis, behavior and cognitive therapies, sex therapies, and psychotropic medication, among others.”
Media Matters previously studied how West Palm Beach broadcast media provided a platform for another therapist tied to NARTH, Julie Hamilton, who also spread misinformation about conversion therapy. When featuring Hamilton, outlets failed to contextualize Hamilton’s ties to pro-conversion therapy groups or her book on the so-called “treatment” of “unwanted homosexual attractions.” Local media there also disproportionately featured testimony from supporters of conversion therapy even though the practice is deeply unpopular and widely condemned.
If outlets do insist on hosting figures with a history of anti-LGBTQ bigotry, they must contextualize their backgrounds and affiliations and at the very least debunk their misinformation. Outlets fail their audiences by giving uncritical platforms to misinformation, as multiple studies have found that audiences’ attitudes and opinions can be swayed even after myths are thoroughly debunked. Media coverage should also represent the communities affected by conversion therapy and not give heightened platforms to voices who support such a widely debunked practice.
Because proponents of conversion therapy frequently misrepresent the harms of the practice and claim they may be helping people, sharing stories of survivors of conversion therapy helps accurately depict the realities of such experiences and rebut the myth that conversion therapy is not harmful. Survivors should never be forced to relive their traumatic experiences with conversion therapy to a reporter or the public; however, outlets should make space for survivors who are ready and willing to share their experiences or for LGBTQ individuals who understand the risk it poses to their community.
For example, AZCentral’s report on a recently introduced bill in Arizona featured comments by Sam Brinton, a survivor and advocate who works with the Trevor Project. The report noted that Brinton, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun they, experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after undergoing conversion therapy and quoted them saying that “we need to be addressing this” problem in order “to stop LGBT youth from dying by suicide.” Brinton also published a New York Times op-ed about their experience surviving conversion therapy, where they wrote:
For over two years, I sat on a couch and endured emotionally painful sessions with a counselor. I was told that my faith community rejected my sexuality; that I was the abomination we had heard about in Sunday school; that I was the only gay person in the world; that it was inevitable I would get H.I.V. and AIDS.
But it didn’t stop with these hurtful talk-therapy sessions. The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy. In the end it didn’t work. I would say that it did, just to make the pain go away.
Similarly, Miami’s WSVN 7News interviewed Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Justin Flippen about the then-proposed ban in Broward County, FL, who described his personal experiences surviving conversion therapy: "I saw other young people in these sessions that struggled emotionally, mentally with who they felt they were and what they were being told by these professionals."
Also in Miami, CBS4 reported on the successful passage of Broward County’s ban and featured a transgender child and her accepting mother, who, the report said, were “thrilled to learn that Broward County commissioners passed this new ordinance.” Highlighting the stories of those who have survived conversion therapy helps humanize the issue and illustrate the risk it poses to LGBTQ people, and lifting up LGBTQ voices who have not undergone the dangerous treatment shows that they thrive when society accepts them for who they are rather than try to change them.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists have stepped into a number of efforts to protect youth from conversion therapy and are attempting to block policies that would ban the practice. Outlets should be careful to not use hate groups as sources for this topic and should contextualize these groups if they include them in their coverage.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, a Broward County, FL, newspaper, anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel has already filed a lawsuit against a successful ban in Tampa, FL, and has threatened to sue in Palm Beach County, FL. Liberty Counsel regularly engages in demonizing, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including comparing LGBTQ people to pedophiles and claiming that marriage equality and inclusive nondiscrimination protections could lead to civil war and death. However, Sun-Sentinel’s coverage described it as a “legal group” or “nonprofit,” noting in an article only that it “has had other battles over religion and homosexuality.” By not exposing the bigotry of bad actors in this space, outlets fail to show the extremism that underlies support for conversion therapy.
Liberty Counsel has been vocally involved with current debates over conversion therapy, but its position is common among other often less-vocal hate groups. Anti-LGBTQ hate group ADF has repeatedly demonstrated its support for conversion therapy, including in court. ADF has frequently put LGBTQ youth in its crosshairs and has been leading the national campaign against transgender student equality in schools. At least a dozen of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ allies also support the harmful practice. Journalists must be cognizant of these groups, particularly when quoting figures who may be associated with them or highlighting their involvement in these debates.
Additional research by Rebecca Damante.
The Trump administration released new guidance on October 6 making it easier for people or businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom.” In July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- which has been instrumental in passing similar laws across the country -- that the Justice Department would release such guidance.
According to BuzzFeed, the new guidance “says the government cannot unduly burden people or certain businesses from practicing their faith, noting, ‘The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.’” The guidance includes “twenty principles” of religious liberty, including one that allows religious employers to “employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.” In other words, it gives license for religious employers to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, single mothers, divorced persons, and other groups. It also says that protections for so-called “religious liberty” would apply to individuals “providing or receiving social services, education, or healthcare; … seeking to earn or earning a living; … employing others to do the same; … receiving government grants or contracts; or … otherwise interacting with federal, state, or local governments.” A separate principle in the guidance says it applies “not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations,” and yet another says the government cannot “second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief.” In sum, the broad memo “could give people of faith -- including government works and contractors -- a loophole to ignore federal bans on discrimination against women and LGBT people,” according to BuzzFeed.
Sessions promised guidance along those lines in July when he addressed ADF in a closed-door speech that was eventually leaked to the right-wing, rabidly anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist. NBC News reported that during the speech, Sessions said President Donald Trump “has also directed me to issue guidance on how to apply federal religious liberty protections. The department is finalizing this guidance, and I will soon issue it.” Sessions continued, “The guidance will also help agencies follow the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Congress enacted RFRA so that, if the federal government imposes a burden on somebody’s religious practice, it had better have a compelling reason." NBC News spoke with numerous LGBTQ advocates who “suggested Sessions was more interested in protecting the right to discriminate than the freedom of religion.” BuzzFeed also reported that the Justice Department “consulted with religious and political groups with a history of opposing protections for LGBT people,” including ADF. The report noted that ADF has championed and embraced a strategy of “ambiguity in religious policies in the past, believing the scope can be litigated in court.”
ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation and has played an instrumental role in enacting other discriminatory anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom restoration” acts in states across the country, including Mississippi’s law, which is expected to go into effect Tuesday. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called the Mississippi law “by far the most sweeping and devastating state law to be enacted against LGBTQ people in the country,” adding that “under this law, almost any individual or organization could justify discrimination against LGBTQ people, single mothers, unwed couples, and others.” The Washington Post reported in July 2016 that ADF “played a key role in helping Mississippi’s legislature and governor write, promote and legally justify” the bill. The Post noted that ADF’s involvement was “notable … because state officials did not disclose aid from the organization” and that a lawyer challenging the bill said it “adopted many of the identical passages” in ADF’s “model executive order.” A lawsuit against the law stalled it from going into effect until this month. ADF attorneys “are part of the legal team representing Gov. Phil Bryant in the lawsuits,” according to ADF.
In Iowa, ADF worked with a state senator on legislation modeled after Indiana’s 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by now-Vice President Mike Pence. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa successfully worked with partner groups and businesses to block its introduction. ADF has also fought for and helped enact numerous other such acts in states across the country: It helped write Arizona’s SB 1062, which was ultimately vetoed; one of its lawyers testified in favor of Kansas’ religious freedom act, which passed in 2013; another one of its lawyers testified in defense of a failed religious freedom restoration act in Colorado; it “had a hand in” writing a proposed religious freedom restoration act in Georgia; it promoted a religious freedom restoration act in Arkansas; and it helped “advise” Indiana lawmakers during the state’s debate over its own act. ADF’s Kellie Fiedorek stood behind then-Gov. Pence when he signed the bill into law.
ADF has supported a number of other extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, including criminalizing homosexuality. ADF (then called the Alliance Defense Fund) formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. in 2003 when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas defending state sodomy laws in which it called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” When the court struck down anti-sodomy laws, ADF called the ruling “devastating.”
The group is also leading the national campaign for “bathroom bills” targeting transgender youth and is representing plaintiff Jack Phillips in the upcoming Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case. The case may similarly determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious” or “artistic freedom.” On October 6, in what was seen by some as an “unusual move,” the Justice Department filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court siding with ADF and its client in that case. ADF has demonstrated time and time again a commitment to chipping away at LGBTQ equality and turning members of the community into second class citizens, and Friday’s guidance by the Justice Department shows the group has powerful, like-minded allies in the Trump administration.
Rebecca Damante contributed research to this report. Headline changed for clarity.
President Donald Trump urged Congress to begin investigations into the U.S. media, which he baselessly claimed was fabricating stories in order to damage his presidency, in a Thursday morning tweet with authoritarian overtones.
“Why Isn't the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!,” the president tweeted just before 7 a.m. EST.
Why Isn't the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2017
Trump’s tweet came the morning after the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- which has been investigating what U.S. intelligence agencies have determined was a Russian propaganda effort aimed at disrupting the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor --confirmed those conclusions and warned that the Kremlin’s effort to influence U.S. elections is ongoing. At a news conference detailing the progress of their investigation, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the committee’s chairman, said that the issue of whether Trump’s associates had colluded with Russia “is still open.”
Trump has long been defensive about the question of whether Russia aided his election, and has termed the special counsel’s investigation into whether his associates participated in that effort a “witch hunt.” And his constant attempts to undermine and delegitimize the press are one of the rare throughlines in his chaotic administration. Critics have noted that this effort parallels those made by authoritarian leaders.
In this case, Trump was criticizing NBC News’ report yesterday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been “on the verge of resigning this past summer” and had referred to the president as a “moron” following a Pentagon meeting with senior officials. After the report’s publication, Tillerson denied that he had considered leaving the administration and praised the president as “smart,” but did not directly deny that he had called Trump a “moron.” A spokesperson later denied that claim on his behalf.
“Rex Tillerson never threatened to resign,” Trump tweeted roughly an hour after his initial tweet this morning. “This is Fake News put out by @NBCNews. Low news and reporting standards. No verification from me.”
It seems unlikely that the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose Russia investigation appears driven by a spirit of bipartisanship and professionalism, will take up Trump’s challenge. But it is certainly not out of the question that some congressional committee will do so.
Just yesterday, Politico reported that Trump loyalists, including some members of the House Republican caucus, are “losing patience” with the congressional Russia probes, preferring instead that investigators “probe more deeply into issues that could harm Democrats.”
Spurred on by right-wing media, Republicans frequently wielded their committees as partisan cudgels in this manner during President Barack Obama’s administration. Notably, House Republicans voted to assemble a select committee to investigate the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi after several other House and Senate committees had already reviewed those events. Several Republicans, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, subsequently acknowledged that the panel’s purpose was to damage the political standing of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
According to Politico, Trump’s supporters would like congressional investigators to focus on Clinton, a figure hated by the conservative movement for decades. But don’t be surprised if, with a shove from Trump’s twitter feed, they begin calling for investigations into that movement’s other leading enemy, the press.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had several opportunities at today’s press briefing to walk back the president’s tweet, but repeatedly declined to do so, instead continuing the administration's attack on news outlets.
First, Sanders was asked if there’s concern in the White House about the way Trump refers to stories he considers inaccurate as “fake news,” conflating the term with deliberately false stories, and whether she draws a distinction between the two. She said that the president is concerned with “inaccurate information that's being presented as factual” and “opinions that are being presented as news,” saying that problem “should be looked at.” She declined to draw such a distinction between incorrect and deliberately false reports:
Asked a second time about the president’s tweet and whether he values the First Amendment, she responded that he does but that “with those freedoms also come responsibilities and you have a responsibility to tell the truth.” She then declined to directly address a question about whether she thinks Congress should investigate news outlets:
When another reporter questioned whether the president believes the Senate Intelligence Committee should investigate U.S. news outlets, as he suggested in his tweet, Sanders replied, “I don’t know that that’s the case, but I do think that we should call on all media to a higher standard."
On July 9, after a week in which President Donald Trump had unloaded on CNN, the Senate struggled to assemble legislation to repeal Obamacare, and The New York Times had revealed that the president’s son had met with Russian agents as part of their government’s pro-Trump election effort, Megyn Kelly -- NBC’s pricey new hire and the centerpiece of their revamped lineup -- sat down for an interview. Her subject wasn’t a politician or a business leader, a lawyer with insight into the Trump administration’s legal troubles or a wonk prepared to diagnose Congress’ flailing attempts at health care reform. Instead, Kelly’s guest on her struggling newsmagazine program, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, was affable, red-headed English singer Ed Sheeran, who was about to make a cameo appearance on HBO’s Game of Thrones.
They talked about Sheeran’s childhood shyness and why he thinks he became a success. At the end of it all, Kelly had elicited the revelation that Sheeran stopped carrying a cellphone last year, which he considers a “pretty amazing” development. And more than any hard-won insight into Sheeran’s stage fright, the audience was left with a pressing question: Megyn Kelly, arguably one of the buzziest cable stars of the 2016 election, a woman who prompted a bidding war when her contract was up, left Fox News to do this?
Kelly was one of the undisputed media winners of the presidential election cycle, taking the industry by storm after her August 2015 primary debate question roasting Trump over his misogyny triggered a vicious response from the Republican front-runner. Always a savvy self-promoter, Kelly parlayed her turn in the spotlight into a series of incandescent profiles and a billing as her network’s biggest star. By luring her away from Fox, NBC’s executives surely thought they had acquired one of the biggest talents of her generation, someone who could help the network dominate the ratings for years to come.
But as Kelly’s attempts to pivot have suggested, much of her appeal depended on her context. Her star power derived from her ability to play to Fox News’ penchant for racial grievance, while showily pushing back on especially retrograde displays of sexism. But that unmatched proficiency in projecting outrage covered over other significant deficiencies. On a larger stage, Kelly’s tried to be like many other anchors, seeking to become the “next Matt Lauer” or the “new Oprah.” In the process, she’s shed what made her distinct, and turned in a show that ought to be NBC’s worst nightmare: It’s boring.
Kelly signed on with NBC because the network offered her the most freedom to do the type of programming she wanted. "I'm thrilled now to be able to anchor the kinds of broadcasts that I'd always dreamed I'd be able to do, that I felt in my heart I was born to do," she said in May.
The kinds of broadcasts Kelly wanted turned out to be the ones everyone else is already doing: three to five segments per show, each of which features Kelly or one of the rotating cast of NBC contributors doing reports NBC describes as “focused on in-depth investigations, newsmaker interviews and stories of adversity, accomplishment, inspiration and adventure.” She didn’t even bring on distinctive correspondents; instead the program relies on the network’s already-prominent talent. And the stuff of her dreams turns out to be Ambien for the rest of us.
Her interview subjects are universally Good People and Bad People. The Good People are the ones Kelly wants to promote, like conservative author J.D. Vance, journalists Erin Andrews and Maria Menounos, several women in the tech industry who experienced sexual harassment, and the like. They receive softball questions that allow them to tell their personal stories of tragedy and triumph. The Bad People -- like Russian President Vladimir Putin or conspiracy theorist Alex Jones -- get significantly tougher questions, often built from deep research into their past statements, surrounded by interviews with their critics. Among Kelly’s carefully handpicked interview subjects, there is no complexity. There are no interviews with interesting but flawed individuals who are challenged to defend their opinions and ideas.
By the time Kelly interviewed Vance for her June 26 broadcast, he had been in the spotlight for nearly a year. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, which describes the despairing hillbilly culture he grew up in as a form of social decay that does more to hold back the people of that community than economic insecurity, hit The New York Times bestseller list last August; he is an op-ed contributor at that paper, and has a talking head gig on CNN which he uses to tell his story and the lessons he believes it holds for contemporary politics. Journalists across the political spectrum have delved into his life and work with vigor.
Faced with an interview subject whose harrowing childhood and effort to overcome those circumstances have been told over and over again by her colleagues, and with no real news hook, one might have expected Kelly to try to break new ground. Instead, her piece focused almost entirely on Vance’s biography, with Kelly asking him how he felt during particularly distressing moments and whether he is surprised by the book’s success (“When did it even occur to you that you could get into a place like Yale Law?”). Kelly’s other interviews for the segment -- with Vance’s wife, sister, and a college professor -- all served to flesh out aspects of that well-trod personal story. Vance’s work invokes ideas, but Kelly made no effort to interrogate them. She quoted a single line from an unnamed critic, allowed Vance to laugh it off, and moved on without the kind of follow-up question that any interviewer should have handy.
When Kelly examines less familiar subject matter, her problem is not redundancy but a failure to contextualize. She introduced her viewers on July 9 to Princeton philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie and New York University psychologist Andrei Cimpian, whose research finds that beginning at age six, girls become significantly more likely to identify males as smarter than females. This could have been the springboard for an in-depth discussion of the impact such gender biases may have, both for those children and in society at large. Instead, most of the segment was taken up by the NBC team recreating that study with a panel of children and showing the results to their shocked mothers, hitting the same beats over and over again, and leaving little time for the researchers to explain how this may limit girls’ choices or discuss their prior research showing that women are underrepresented in science and engineering.
As the show faltered, Kelly experimented with shorter interviews with celebrities, sitting down for "Q&As" with Sheeran, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, and comedian Ricky Gervais and turning out brief segments that aired in the last block of the run’s later episodes. These did not go well, and may indicate a real limit to Kelly’s range as a TV host.
Kelly gives little indication that she has any but the most cursory understanding of who she’s interviewing. At times her questions are extremely generic -- she asked Sheeran to “complete this sentence: Success requires …” Others demonstrate a paper-thin knowledge of the subject’s background -- Kelly asked Smith about her occasionally troubled relationship with her husband, which Kelly acknowledged both have openly discussed at length; she quizzed Gervais about whether he gets “blowback” because he roasts attendees when he hosts the Golden Globes, a role he performed most recently 18 months before the interview.
Then, inevitably, each interview ended with a lightning round of “quick hits,” a selection of the most banal questions imaginable, recycled from interview to interview, with the questions getting recycled from subject to subject. If you always wanted to hear each of the three artists divulge their favorite movie and the thing they’d most like to change about themselves, this show is for you. If you were interested in hearing them address their work in any real detail -- or if you’re even curious why Gervais’ favorite film is The Godfather -- go elsewhere, because Kelly lacks either the knowledge or the ability to draw any of them out.
Kelly didn’t become a cable news star with illuminating interviews of celebrities. She built her audience by following her network’s standard playbook, appealing to conservatives’ worst impulses and resentments, lashing out at liberals and drawing on racially-inflected rhetoric. At the same time, she was able to win plaudits from media elites with unexpected, viral “Megyn moment” takedowns of right-wing guests, positioning herself to move to a mainstream network.
But Sunday Night is a deliberate move away from the type of show that made her a star. “One of the things I didn’t like about my old job was it was all politics,” Kelly said in a May interview with The Wall Street Journal. She promised her NBC show would have less “red meat” and “more balance.”
Kelly may not have enjoyed doing these sorts of segments. But without them, Kelly had little to offer the fans that might have followed her to NBC.
And whatever you thought of their content (and we at Media Matters have had plenty to say on that front), those segments were more engaging spectacles than the ones she’s putting on at NBC. Thanks to her years at Fox, Kelly is without peer at projecting outrage and generating sensational viral clips. But that talent covered up her lack of range; her weakness in showing empathy or drawing out interesting, newsy details from her interview subjects.
There’s little to be said about Kelly’s show when she isn’t on screen. The segments from NBC’s correspondents have been workmanlike but undistinguished, and nothing about them stands out as somehow unique to the program or even influenced by Kelly’s presence -- with little change, they could have run on Dateline.
Their subjects are standard human-interest stories, in turn heart-warming or horrifying -- the possible impacts of a scientist’s new technique, an orphan from Sierra Leone adopted by Americans who became a ballet dancer, a pharmaceutical company’s scam to get doctors to overprescribe their medication, the dangers of dental anaesthesia, one man’s effort to heal anti-immigrant divisions in his hometown. The reports lack any sense of innovation or verve beyond what one would expect from any other newsmagazine show.
None of the stories featured on Kelly's program broke major news or had a significant impact on the news cycle; no one in journalism is talking about the great reporting coming out of Sunday Night. Kelly’s reports also made little news, and other media companies have made no significant efforts to follow up on her stories. Her only stories to garner attention were the Putin interview, which made a splash because of its subject but not Kelly’s effort, and the Jones interview, which caused a PR disaster for NBC. The program’s own segment providing “updates” on the stories that were previously covered represents an unsuccessful attempt to demonstrate a record of journalistic accomplishment.
Boring shows don’t win big audiences. Six million people tuned in for the show’s premiere, the highest viewership of the run, but still fewer than the show’s chief competitor, CBS’ venerable newsmagazine show 60 Minutes. Sunday Night never again pulled in an audience of more than 3.6 million viewers, regularly and embarrassingly losing not only to old episodes of 60 Minutes, but to reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos.
NBC reportedly originally planned for Kelly’s show to have a 10-episode run, then go on hiatus from the end of the summer until the spring to make way for Sunday Night Football and the network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. While a network source denies that NBC cut the run short by airing only eight episodes, one segment teased in the program’s premiere -- an interview with MyPillow’s Mike Lindell -- never aired, and an episode of Dateline NBC, the network’s durable newsmagazine show, is scheduled to air this Sunday in Kelly’s timeslot. It would not be surprising if Sunday Night never returns.
Sunday Night, with a limited run in a low-profile timeslot and staffed by existing NBC talent, was fundamentally a cheap, low-risk bet for the network. They tried it, it failed, and it’s already off the air.
The real threat to NBC’s hopes for future network dominance may be realized next month, when Kelly’s NBC weekday morning show, Megyn Kelly Today, debuts. Immediately following the network’s moneymaking and ratings juggernaut, Today, and with name branding tied to that crown jewel of the NBC News family, NBC is counting on that show to succeed. NBC lost Tamron Hall, the former co-anchor of their 9 a.m. programming, after executives handed her timeslot to Kelly; she’s since become a competitor, pitching a network daytime talk show. NBC has taken heat for replacing a program hosted by two African-Americans with a white host famous for her declaration that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were white. If Kelly’s morning show fails, it will be a disaster for the network.
The results from Sunday Night should be an ominous sign for NBC. Kelly showed that she lacks a large audience of loyal fans willing to follow her from show to show. Kelly’s more aggressive interviews didn’t draw viewers -- the audience didn’t stick around after the Putin interview or show up in big numbers for the Jones one. But crucially for a weekday morning show, her softer interviews have been mediocre. The “Q&A” celebrity interview segments -- the sort of friendly back-and-forths that are the backbone of a morning show -- were some of the most rote and boring of the show’s run.
NBC’s executives made a huge investment in Megyn Kelly’s career, betting on Fox News stardom that they hoped would translate to a network audience. So far that bet hasn’t panned out. NBC could afford for her to fail on Sunday nights. But a similar wipeout on weekday mornings, with Kelly nailed to one of the network’s most high-profile brands, could be a disaster.
Additional research provided by Shelby Jamerson.
Update: MSNBC and Greta Van Susteren have agreed to part ways.
MSNBC is now a pasture for pseudo-intellectual conservatives. Climate denier and Iraq War booster Bret Stephens is just the latest right-wing hire at the network.
In recent months NBC News Chairman Andy Lack has overseen a hiring spree of right-wing pundits and former Fox News personalities. The stable includes Hugh Hewitt, Megyn Kelly, Charlie Sykes, Greta Van Susteren, and George Will. They join other conservatives at the network: Elise Jordan, Steve Schmidt, Michael Steele, Rick Tyler, Nicolle Wallace, and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough. This is to say nothing of NBC News contributor and Trump apologist Mark Halperin; and given their frequent appearances, it may be just a matter of time until David Frum, a speechwriter for then-President George W. Bush, former George W. Bush chief of staff Andy Card, and neocon Bill Kristol join the network as well.
Compared to CNN’s boorish Trumpists or the state media apparatchiks at Fox News, the common thread among MSNBC conservatives is a certain pretentious shine. They’re frequently just arguing that President Donald Trump is the wrong type of conservative, when in fact Trump is the apotheosis of everything conservatism has been careening toward for some time. (The exception is Hugh Hewitt, who is now just a huge Trump booster after vacillating during the campaign.)
Many of these hires have direct, intimate connections to Bush, the most disastrous president in decades. Card, Frum, Jordan, and Wallace worked in the Bush administration, and Stephens, Kristol, Will, Scarborough, and Hewitt were all huge cheerleaders for the Iraq War. And that history matters. Two major media institutions, including a newspaper of record, are now paying Stephens essentially just to troll liberals with climate denial and to push America towards a war with Iran.
You can separate Lack’s hiring spree into two buckets: pundits and brands. Neither offer much value in the long run. In this media environment, opinions are cheap (including mine!). Everyone has one and most of them stink. There’s no long-term return on opinions (and no lack of people wanting to get on TV to share theirs).
Adding brands like Megyn Kelly or Greta Van Susteren is equally pointless. It’s no wonder that both of these shows have failed. There’s simply no audience for them outside the Fox News bubble. Particularly with Kelly, NBC News executives seem completely unaware that her entire show at Fox News was built around racial dog-whistling (with occasional moments of bucking the party line).
Also, as Ryan Grim noted, it is the progressive shows that Lack hasn’t touched that are succeeding the most.
Rather than spending all this money on right-wing pundits and big names, the true value-add for news networks now is reliable and aggressive journalism. That’s hard to do. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. But it’s ultimately what will define NBC News and MSNBC.
Right-wing media figures are trying to curry favor for the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) by attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA), pushing lies about the BCRA, disparaging the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or distorting its analysis of the legislation, and muddying the truth about the health care system in general. Here is a guide to the myths right-wing media are employing to sell the Senate Republican health care bill.