Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Time magazine reported that congressional investigators looking into Russia’s role in the 2016 election are investigating both Breitbart and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.
Breitbart, which was formerly headed by current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for Russian bots allegedly pushing pro-Trump stories from the website. The website has also repeatedly tried to delegitimize stories of ties between Russia and President Donald Trump. Cambridge Analytica is primarily owned by major Trump donor Robert Mercer. Breitbart and Mercer have a symbiotic relationship; he finances the website, and Breitbart regularly promotes the Mercer family’s interests. Bannon also reportedly had a financial stake in Cambridge Analytica, and Federal Election Commission reports have indicated that millions of dollars allegedly paid by a pro-Trump super PAC to the firm were mysteriously sent to a California address registered to Bannon. The Trump campaign also hired the firm and reportedly paid it millions of dollars at the urging of Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer.
Time, in a May 18 report titled “Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America,” reported that “congressional investigations are probing not just Russia's role” in the 2016 election, “but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign.” The investigators, according to Time, are focusing on “two Trump-linked organizations,” Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart. It added that investigators were specifically “looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts.” From the report:
Russia plays in every social media space. The intelligence officials have found that Moscow's agents bought ads on Facebook to target specific populations with propaganda. "They buy the ads, where it says sponsored by--they do that just as much as anybody else does," says the senior intelligence official. (A Facebook official says the company has no evidence of that occurring.) The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, has said he is looking into why, for example, four of the top five Google search results the day the U.S. released a report on the 2016 operation were links to Russia's TV propaganda arm, RT. (Google says it saw no meddling in this case.) Researchers at the University of Southern California, meanwhile, found that nearly 20% of political tweets in 2016 between Sept. 16 and Oct. 21 were generated by bots of unknown origin; investigators are trying to figure out how many were Russian.
As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia's role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics company hired by the campaign that is partly owned by deep-pocketed Trump backer Robert Mercer; and Breitbart News, the right-wing website formerly run by Trump's top political adviser Stephen Bannon.
The congressional investigators are looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts, a source familiar with the investigations tells TIME. "Nobody can prove it yet," the source says. In March, McClatchy newspapers reported that FBI counterintelligence investigators were probing whether far-right sites like Breitbart News and Infowars had coordinated with Russian botnets to blitz social media with anti-Clinton stories, mixing fact and fiction when Trump was doing poorly in the campaign.
There are plenty of people who are skeptical of such a conspiracy, if one existed. Cambridge Analytica touts its ability to use algorithms to microtarget voters, but veteran political operatives have found them ineffective political influencers. Ted Cruz first used their methods during the primary, and his staff ended up concluding they had wasted their money. Mercer, Bannon, Breitbart News and the White House did not answer questions about the congressional probes. A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica says the company has no ties to Russia or individuals acting as fronts for Moscow and that it is unaware of the probe.
In an interview, President Donald Trump claimed that a January New York Times article proved his false claim that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower and suggested that the newspaper later changed the article's headline to remove the word "wiretap." Both claims about the article come from fringe and right-wing media. In fact, the Times article does not prove Trump’s claim, and its headline was never altered.
Fox News and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hyped online post-debate polls to claim that Trump won the debate, saying that “every poll” showed that he “did better” than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But online polls involve “a self-selecting group of respondents,” and journalists and polling experts generally view them as unreliable -- “garbage” even.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump once again updated his tax and economic policy proposals during a September 15 speech at the Economic Club of New York. Journalists and experts immediately slammed Trump’s plan as “a total fantasy,” “pretty much impossible,” and “pie in the sky.”
Trump Will Be The First Republican Presidential Nominee To Headline Values Voter Summit, Organized By Hate Group Leader Tony Perkins
Over the past year, Tony Perkins -- president of the anti-LGBT hate group the Family Research Council -- has gone from adamantly supporting Ted Cruz to openly endorsing Republican nominee Donald Trump for president. This week, Trump will be the first GOP presidential nominee to headline Perkins’ Values Voter Summit. Here’s how the hate group leader came to embrace and endorse Trump as a “teachable” candidate, giving Perkins an opportunity to “shape” Trump into a nominee who embodies Perkins’ anti-LGBT extremism.
On September 9, Trump is slated to speak at the 11th Values Voter Summit (VVS) in Washington, D.C. Trump’s appearance marks the first time that a Republican presidential nominee has addressed the summit since it began in 2006. The VVS is hosted annually by the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as an anti-LGBT “hate group” due to its known propagation of extreme falsehoods about LGBT people as well as Perkins' own history of making inflammatory comments. Perkins has called pedophilia a "homosexual problem," equated being gay with drug use and adultery, accused gay people of trying to "recruit" children, and compared gay rights advocates to terrorists.
In past years, the summit has been little more than a who’s who of anti-LGBT and anti-choice extremists, regularly featuring hateful and extreme rhetoric from politicians and conservative media figures. Trump agreed to address attendees at the extremist event nearly a year after he initially declined the opportunity to speak at the 2015 VVS. He eventually reversed that decision and addressed the 2015 summit along with seven other Republican presidential candidates. Since then, FRC president and VVS host Tony Perkins has gone from being the driving force behind evangelical support for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid to questioning Trump’s candidacy as a possible “huge problem” for Republicans to endorsing Trump in a speech at the Republican National Convention in June.
Over the last year, Perkins seems to have become convinced that Trump was “open” and “teachable” enough to make his candidacy a “pragmatic” opportunity for Perkins to “shape the outcome” of the election. And by all accounts, he has been successful. In his speech endorsing Trump at the Republican National Convention, Perkins highlighted the extremist, anti-LGBT positions cemented into Trump’s campaign: the slew of anti-LGBT potential Supreme Court nominees Trump has mentioned, VP pick Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and the most anti-LGBT Republican Party platform to date.
Here’s the timeline of how the far right’s most prominent anti-LGBT extremist came to support Donald Trump.
In September 2015, Trump and Perkins appeared to have a spat when Trump initially declined to speak at FRC’s 2015 Values Voter Summit. Trump reversed his decision two days before the summit and delivered a speech met with boos from the evangelical audience, finishing in fifth place in VVS’s straw poll. In December, Perkins organized a secret meeting of influential evangelical leaders, where he successfully pushed for the group to endorse Ted Cruz for president. Later that month Perkins told The Washington Post that “it’s a mistake to write off Donald Trump.”
September 10, 2015. The Christian Post reported that Trump had declined to speak at FRC’s September 25-27 Values Voter Summit. Perkins said of Trump’s decision:
I think [Trump] is going to have to have conversations with evangelicals and talk about issues they care about. He hasn't really done that in a way that is convincing.
Could [Trump] make some progress with evangelicals? I think he could if he tried, but I don't really see that happening right now."
September 23, 2015. The Family Research Council issued a press release announcing that Trump had reversed his original decision to skip the 2015 VVS, and would now speak at the summit along with seven other Republican presidential candidates.
September 25-27, 2015. On September 25, Trump delivered a speech to the 2015 VVS, where he was greeted by boos for attacking Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and mocked by some conferencegoers for bringing his Bible as what appeared to be a prop to appeal to evangelicals. The following day, Cruz won the VVS straw poll for the third year in a row and Trump finished in a distant fifth place with 5 percent of the vote.
December 7, 2015. In a "major boost" for Cruz's presidential campaign, he won the endorsement of a secretive group of influential evangelical Christian leaders. The top national socially conservative activists convened at a private meeting organized by Perkins, who reportedly “push[ed] hard to form a supermajority” behind Cruz.
December 10, 2015. In an interview with The Washington Post, Perkins warned that “it’s a mistake to write off Donald Trump” and said that he gives Trump “more credit” than others do:
I give Donald Trump a lot more credit than some do. I don’t think he misspeaks as much as people think. I think in this age of political correctness, in which people refuse to speak with clarity, he is seen as very attractive. I think it’s a mistake to write off Donald Trump. He has tapped something that’s very real across the spectrum, including [among] Evangelicals.
December 21, 2015. Trump called in to Perkins’ radio show to discuss the importance of “religious freedom” and “saying ‘Merry Christmas.’” Perkins observed that Trump has “tapped into” the importance of celebrating Christmas, which is possibly why his poll numbers “continue to rise.”
On January 26, a week after Trump blamed Perkins for his “two Corinthians” gaffe, Perkins publicly endorsed Cruz on Fox News. After endorsing Cruz, Perkins gave several interviews disparaging Trump. In February, he denounced the “fear” motivating evangelicals to vote for Trump.
January 20, 2016. In an interview with CNN, Trump blamed Perkins for his “two Corinthians” gaffe during remarks at Liberty University, saying that Perkins had given him notes on what to say at Liberty (the Bible verse Trump referenced comes from the book known as Second Corinthians). Perkins said that the gaffe “shows that he’s not familiar with Bible,” adding that “Trump’s a very interesting guy.”
January 26, 2016. Perkins officially endorsed Ted Cruz during an interview on Fox News’ The Kelly File, calling Cruz the “best” candidate “prepared to lead this nation forward.”
February 24, 2016. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Perkins denounced the “fear” he believed was motivating evangelicals to vote for Trump, saying, “We cannot be driven by fear. … When we are driven by fear, we make mistakes.”
In March, Perkins called Trump’s conduct “antithetical to evangelical teaching” and said that, while Trump might have identified “the problems” in society, he did not have “the solution.” Perkins continued to publicly support Cruz until he dropped out of the race on May 3. After Cruz ended his presidential bid, Perkins joined a small group of evangelical leaders who planned a private meeting with Trump to “reconcile” his candidacy.
March 11, 2016. In an interview with C-SPAN’s Newsmakers, Perkins said that although he “like[d] some of the things Donald Trump is saying,” Trump’s conduct was “antithetical to evangelical teaching.” Perkins declared that he would not “fall in line” to support a candidate just because the candidate was a Republican, and said that he was “very concerned” about what may happen in the general election with Trump as the Republican presidential nominee (emphasis added):
I like some of the things that Donald Trump is saying. I agree with some of the things that he says. I don’t necessarily agree with his policy prescriptions. I think he has identified the problem. I don’t think that he has the solution.
I mean, if we came to that point, it would require sitting down with Donald Trump to see what his pathway forward was in terms of the Supreme Court, who would be vetting judicial nominees, who would be his running mates, who would be involved in his cabinet, what type of policies would he advocate? I am not a lackey for the Republican Party. Just because it’s a Republican candidate, I'm not going to fall in line. It has to be someone who is committed to the core values that we represent at the Family Research Council.
I think that becomes a real problem for Donald Trump if he is a nominee in a general election because I have no doubt that if he were to get the nomination that we would hear several months worth of explaining of his past positions, of his casinos, strip clubs, all these other things that would be used to really suppress evangelical turnout in the general elections. I think it is a huge problem for the Republicans.
March 31, 2016. In a statement from the lobbying arm of FRC responding to Trump’s comments that there needed to be “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, Perkins called Trump “ill informed in this vital issue” and said that Trump’s statements “suggest he should spend more time with pro-life conservatives to gain a better appreciation of what their goals and objectives really are.”
May 17, 2016. In an interview with CNN, Perkins said it was “incumbent upon Trump to reach out with tangible steps to quell anxiety in the movement if he is to ensure a strong GOP turnout in November,” though Trump “has not done anything that would make people change their minds.”
May 20, 2016. Time magazine reported that Perkins was part of a small group of evangelical leaders planning a private meeting on June 21 with Trump to reconcile concerns about Trump’s candidacy.
After Trump met with evangelical leaders, Perkins said that they're “not quite there” in supporting Trump. But two days after that, Perkins announced that he will vote for Trump in November, adding “it is not something that I relish.” A month later at the Republican National Convention, Perkins delivered a speech formally endorsing Trump, citing Trump’s potential judicial nominees, VP pick, and the Republican Party platform as evidence that Trump was “committed to upholding and protecting the first freedom.” On August 11, Perkins announced that Trump was slated to be the first GOP presidential nominee to ever speak at the Values Voter Summit.
June 21, 2016. After meeting with evangelical leaders, Trump announced the creation of “Evangelical Executive Advisory Board” for his campaign. Perkins, who largely organized the event, said that evangelicals were “not quite there” on supporting Trump.
June 23, 2016. On his Washington Watch radio show, Perkins said he would be voting for Trump because “it’s really the only one of the two options we have” and admitted he did not “relish” the vote. Perkins reasoned that the decision to vote for Trump was “pragmatic” because “we don’t know what Donald Trump will do, but we can shape the outcome”:
I mean I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, I’m going to vote for Donald Trump, because it’s really the only one of the two options we have. Now, will I actively support him and work for him? I don’t know. That’s yet to be decided. There’s several factors to look at. But I think we need to be very careful going into this election.
We don’t know what Donald Trump will do, but we can shape the outcome.
This is not something that I relish, that I am excited about. But from a pragmatic point I think there’s opportunity. Let me just say this, about Donald Trump and what I seem. He does seem to be open, teachable. Has he made past mistakes? Without question. And I’m not going to try to rationalize them. Has he made choices I disagree with? Absolutely, without question. But, how is he going to go forward? That’s the whole thing about evangelical Christianity.
July 12, 2016. Perkins successfully pushed the Republican Party’s platform committee to add language supporting so-called "conversion" or "reparative therapy,” a harmful and discredited treatment that attempts to “cure” children of being LGBT, to the party platform.
From his judicial nominees to his running mate, to the Party platform and the policies it promotes, Donald Trump has committed to upholding and protecting the first freedom and therefore our ability as citizens to unite our nation once again under God.
August 11, 2016. Perkins released a statement announcing that Trump would be addressing the 11th Values Voter Summit on September 9, noting that this “is the first time a Republican nominee for president has addressed the Values Voter Summit since its inception in 2006” (emphasis added):
We are therefore very encouraged that Donald Trump has accepted our invitation to address the Values Voter Summit and make his case directly to conservative activists from across the country. The fact that he is the first Republican nominee to attend since the Summit's inception in 2006, demonstrates his understanding of the importance of values voters in the general election and his desire to work with them in addressing the critical issues facing our nation.
August 20, 2016. In the wake of devastating flooding in Louisiana, CNN Reporter Ashley Killough tweeted that Trump had donated $100,000 to the Greenwell Spring Baptist Church in Greenwell Springs, LA. Perkins, whose home was severely damaged by the flooding, is currently serving as interim minister of the church.
Jorge Ramos, one of Hispanic media’s most prominent journalists, is asking the media not to “stay silent on Donald Trump” and to avoid “hid[ing] in the principle of neutrality.”
Ramos has had a tenuous relationship with the Republican presidential nominee, which has highlighted Trump’s problem with Hispanic media. In June 2015, Trump responded to an interview request from Ramos by publishing the anchor’s personal contact information on social media. Following that, Ramos was ejected from a Trump event after challenging the candidate, and more recently, Trump sent the anchor a “personal” letter with a bumper sticker and a donation request. Ramos and other Univision journalists have expressed their concern regarding Trump’s confrontational relationship with the media, pointing out how it’s similar in style to dictatorial regimes in Latin America.
In an August 23 piece in Time magazine, the Univision and Fusion anchor notes that, “when it comes to racism, discrimination, corruption, public lies, dictatorships and the violation of human rights,” media have to “take a stand” and realize that “providing both points of view is not enough.” Ramos criticized Trump for questioning “judge Gonzalo Curiel’s capacity to rule in a case” “simply because of his Hispanic ethnicity” and for his statements on “the silence of a Muslim-American woman” who had lost her son in Iraq, and notes that “Judgement day is coming” for journalists “who stay silent on Donald Trump.” From the August 23 article:
It doesn’t matter who you are—a journalist, a politician or a voter—we’ll all be judged by how we responded to Donald Trump. Like it or not, this election is a plebiscite on the most divisive, polarizing and disrupting figure in American politics in decades. And neutrality is not an option.
Trump has forced journalists to revisit rules of objectivity and fairness. Just providing both points of view is not enough in the current presidential campaign. If a candidate is making racist and sexist remarks, we cannot hide in the principle of neutrality. That’s a false equivalence.
Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite were right; sometimes you have to take a stand. They did it against the dangerous persecutions of Senator Joe McCarthy and in denouncing the pernicious official spin during the worst years of the Vietnam War.
Donald Trump’s candidacy has created the same moral dilemma and sense of urgency. So, yes, when it comes to racism, discrimination, corruption, public lies, dictatorships and the violation of human rights, we have to take a stand.
There have been two crucial moments in which even Trump supporters couldn’t defend their own candidate: when he questioned judge Gonzalo Curiel’s capacity to rule in a case in which he was involved simply because of his Hispanic ethnicity and when he criticized the silence of a Muslim-American woman, Ghazala Khan, who had lost her son, a U.S. soldier, in the Iraq war. Those moments proved to be too much even for the most loyal party members.
Even Trump’s jokes aren’t funny. He suggested that “Second Amendment people” do something about Hillary Clinton (which he later insisted was an attempt to motivate them to the polls, not assassinate her). He claimed his multiple comments accusing President Barack Obama of founding ISIS were “sarcastic.”
Trump, really, is no laughing matter. But he could be the next president. That’s how democracy works.
Judgment day is coming. Will you have peace of mind come November 9th?
Fox News figures are helping rationalize Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s threat that the 2016 presidential debates must have “fair” moderators or he won’t participate, pointing to Candy Crowley’s 2012 debate moderation in which she fact-checked Republican candidate Mitt Romney as an “unacceptable” example. But Fox’s attacks on Crowley are based on a lie, and they’re helping lay the groundwork for Trump to justify withdrawing from the debates.
Media figures noted that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s decision to fire his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is “not normal” “at this stage in campaigns” and “speaks to the chaos that has been unfolding inside the campaign.”
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and conservative media figures repeatedly enabled each other to spread baseless smears and outright lies throughout the Republican presidential primary election cycle. Voices in conservative media repeatedly legitimized Trump’s debunked conspiracies, policy proposals, and statistics, some of which echoed longtime narratives from prominent right-wing media figures.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump gave a speech about energy issues on May 26 at an oil conference in North Dakota in which he asserted that he would expand fossil fuel drilling and restore coal mining jobs and he ignored or downplayed renewable energy’s potential. Media figures have criticized Trump’s claims as “utter nonsense” that “defy free market-forces” and noted that his remarks displayed a “lack of basic knowledge” about the energy industry and were full of “absurd, impossible-to-keep promises.”
TIME magazine’s Philip Elliott misleadingly called Republican activist and strategist Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash “heavily researched” in an article about the book's film adaptation, despite the book’s numerous errors and the author’s history of shoddy reporting and partisan ties.
Schweizer’s book, which alleged supposed corruption by the Clintons and the Clinton Foundation, had more than 20 errors, fabrications, and distortions and was dismissed by many media outlets and figures -- including TIME itself -- for lacking evidence to back up its charges. Schweizer is a Republican activist and strategist with a history of faulty reporting.
In a May 12 article, Elliott wrote that the film was based “on a heavily researched book by the same name,” and is “careful in laying out a series of facts that are mostly true, though both the book and the movie sometimes draws connections and conclusions that aren’t as solid as their evidence.” Elliott admitted the book and movie make “impossible to prove” assumptions, yet concluded that “as a work of persuasion, the movie is likely to leave on-the-fence Clinton supporters who see it feeling more unsure about casting a vote for her”:
It would be easy to dismiss an hour-long film adaptation of Peter Schweizer’s book about the charitable-political-nonprofit complex of Bill and Hillary Clinton as nothing more than conservative propaganda. But sitting in a Manhattan screening room late Wednesday, it quickly became clear that conservatives weren’t the intended audience for Clinton Cash.
Environmentalists. Anti-nuke activists. Gay-rights advocates. Good-government folks. They’re all going to find themselves increasingly uncomfortable over claims that the likely Democratic nominee, in the film’s words, takes cash from the “darkest, worst corners of the world.”
The 60-minute indictment of the Clintons will soon find its way to an awful lot of televisions ahead of November’s elections. Based on a heavily researched book by the same name, Clinton Cash is careful in laying out a series of facts that are mostly true, though both the book and the movie sometimes draws connections and conclusions that aren’t as solid as their evidence.
“When it comes to the Clintons, you have to follow the money,” Schweizer says in a rough-cut previewed for TIME.
No doubt, there are many places where dotted lines are smudged into solid ones, and some assumptions are made where concrete evidence of quid pro quo is impossible to prove. But as a work of persuasion, the movie is likely to leave on-the-fence Clinton supporters who see it feeling more unsure about casting a vote for her. Made by the conservative Breitbart News’ executive chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, and director M.A. Taylor, this film rises above the traditional campaign hit job.
Unlike Hillary, Clinton Cash is a more narrowly focused production with a clear-cut thesis that it repeats through a litany of perceived shifty associations. One alleges that that the Clintons helped the Russian nuke agency get control of 20% of American uranium as part of a deal that involves a Canadian billionaire, Kazakhstan mining officials and Vladimir Putin. Another claims that the Clintons got into bed with African strongmen with horrendous human rights records. “Paul Kigali is a friend of Bill Clinton’s,” the film tells audiences of Rwanda’s leader and suggests the Clintons are engaging in neo-colonialism in exploiting African countries’ natural resources.
The film also accuses Hillary Clinton of flip-flopping on the Keystone XL pipeline after an investor booked Bill Clinton for lucrative speeches. Schweizer also says Clinton’s State Department spared Sweden’s Ericsson of troubles over selling technology to Iran after it, too, booked Bill Clinton for a paid talk. The list goes on: that Bill Clinton pocketed KGB money, a mining company put Hillary brother, Tony Rodham, on its board after it won concessions.
The individual facts are largely true and based on widely reported events and public documents. The conclusions, however, are not as cut-and-dried as the film makes them out to be when assembled together. In general, the film’s reasoning is that if one thing followed another, it was a case of cause-and-effect.
This is not a movie that is going to dissuade the #imwithher crowd from supporting Clinton. But it is a movie that might keep disaffected liberals at home, energize the Sanders supporters to keep up the fight even after their preferred candidate bows to reality and serve up new fodder for conservative talking heads on cable news. This isn’t a game-changing movie, but one that could keep some less enthusiastic voters on the sidelines.
The American Family Association Has Been Designated An Anti-LGBT “Hate Group” By The SPLC
Major news outlets have largely failed to identify the American Family Association (AFA) -- the group organizing a boycott of Target over its transgender inclusive restroom policy -- as an anti-LGBT "hate group," often only referring to the group as a "Christian" or "conservative" organization.
Is the only thing more shocking than Donald Trump's campaign manager being charged with simple battery of a reporter the fact that the crime isn't all that startling, given the bullying campaign's open contempt for reporters?
Enough is enough.
With Trump's top aide, Corey Lewandowski, now facing charges, focus has shifted back to the increasingly abusive relationship between the GOP front-runner and the campaign press, and the unprecedented barrage of attacks journalists have faced, including constant insults hurled at them by the candidate himself. (Reporters are "disgusting" "horrible people," Trump regularly announces.)
Sadly, news organizations have brought some of the degradation on themselves by acquiescing to all kinds of Trump campaign demands, such as the rule that they camp out inside mandatory press pens at events. Basically, the Trump campaign disparages the media, and news organizations do nothing in response -- except shower him with even more coverage. (Talk about a win-win for him.)
"For ratings and clicks, they've allowed themselves to be penned up like farm animals at his rallies and risked scuffles with the Secret Service for covering the events like actual reporters," wrote Eliana Johnson at National Review.
In fact, the press pens have become a hallmark of Trump's war on the press.
"Unlike other presidential campaigns, which generally allow reporters and photographers to move around at events, Trump has a strict policy requiring reporters and cameramen to stay inside a gated area, which the candidate often singles out for ridicule during his speeches," Time reported.
And Time should know.
In February, a Secret Service agent lifted Time photographer Chris Morris up off the ground and choke-slammed him onto a table after Morris momentarily "stepped out of the press pen to photograph a Black Lives Matter protest that interrupted the speech."
It's long past time for journalists to demand their freedom from Trump press pens. It's like deciding to finally stop taking Trump's phone-in interviews. Escaping from the pens represents a simple way for news organizations to assert their obvious right to cover the Trump campaign on their own terms, rather than being penned in at campaign events and living in fear of having access denied if coverage is deemed to be too critical.
Covering the Trump campaign on a daily basis today appears to be a rather miserable media existence. Reporters are threatened by staffers, and the Trump communications team seems to be utterly nonresponsive to media inquires. ("There is no Trump press operation," one reporter told Slate.)
But it's even worse than that. Just ask CBS News reporter Sopan Deb. In January at a Trump rally in Reno, a Trump supporter demanded to know if Deb was taking pictures on behalf of ISIS. Then, in March, after Trump's raucous would-be rally in Chicago was canceled, Deb was covering mayhem unfolding on the streets when he was "thrown to the ground by Chicago cops, handcuffed, arrested, and detained in jail."
I give journalists on the Trump beat credit for trying to make the best of a very bad situation. My question is why aren't bosses standing up more forcefully for their staffers on the Trump front line? Why aren't executives saying "enough" to the campaign bullying? And why don't they take collective action and fix the obvious problems with how the Trump campaign is mistreating the press?
In case you missed it, last year 17 journalists representing scores of news organizations met for two hours in Washington, D.C., because they were so angry with how Hillary Clinton's campaign was limiting access for journalists.
"The problems discussed were the campaign's failure to provide adequate notice prior to events, the lack of a clear standard for whether fundraisers are open or closed press and the reflexive tendency to opt to speak anonymously," The Huffington Post reported.
Looking back, the press's Clinton complaints seem minor compared to the disrespect and invective the Trump campaign rains down on the press. But at the time, news organizations banded together and insisted that changes be made. ("The Clinton campaign is far less hostile to reporters than Donald Trump's campaign," The Huffington Post recently noted.)
So why the relative silence in light of the constant Trump mistreatment of the press? Why did news outlets quickly marshal their forces when Democrat Clinton was the target of criticism, but they apparently do very little when the Republican front-runner is trampling all over the press? Why the obvious double standard for covering Trump and Clinton?
Note that last November, several news organizations discussed their concerns with the Trump campaign. "Representatives from five networks -- ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN -- discussed their concerns about the Trump campaign restrictions on a Monday conference call, but did not present the campaign with any specific access requests," according to The Huffington Post.
But very little came of it. "Facing the risk of losing their credentialed access to Trump's events, the networks capitulated," BuzzFeed reported.
Indeed, in the wake of that meeting, press pens at Trump rallies have recently become even more restrictive, with longer avenues of exit and entries created to separate journalists even further from rally attendees.
More recently, BuzzFeed reported, "Two network sources also confirmed the unprecedented control the television networks have surrendered to Trump in a series of private negotiations, allowing him to dictate specific details about placement of cameras at his event, to ensure coverage consists primarily of a single shot of his face."
So yes, news organizations have had behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Trump campaign. But the result has been to let Trump "dictate specific details about place of cameras at his event."
And note that it's not just the press pens. Here's a list of the news organizations that have had reporters banned from previous Trump events, presumably because the campaign didn't like the news coverage: The Des Moines Register, Fusion, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, Politico, The Huffington Post, National Review, The Daily Beast, and Univision.
Over and over we've seen this pattern play out: Report something negative about Trump and watch your press credentials get yanked. This kind of bullying, of course, is unprecedented for American presidential campaigns. The tactic goes against every principle of a free press, inhibiting the news media's unique role in our democracy to inform the public, without fear or favor.
Yet to date, I'm not aware of outlets banding together to make concrete ultimatums in response to the Trump campaign's bullying. Instead of collective action, we get sporadic, nonbinding complaints from editors.
But what kind of signal does that send, other than capitulation?
As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.