Brian Stelter | Media Matters for America

Brian Stelter

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  • Who cares if Trump’s reckless, dangerous Syria announcement is hypocritical?

    Pundits zero in on the least important aspect of Trump’s pledge to bomb Assad

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    This morning, the president pecked out an especially unglued Twitter tirade in which he announced that the United States would be taking military action against the Syrian government. According to Donald Trump, who very likely made this announcement because the lackwit bobbleheads on his favorite morning cable TV show were talking about Syria, his plan is to fire “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles as punishment for “Gas Killing Animal” Bashar Assad’s recent alleged chemical attack on the town of Douma.

    To add still more unnecessary drama to the announcement, Trump packaged it as a taunt to Russia, which backs the Assad government in its brutal war against Syrian opposition forces and vowed to intercept any U.S. missiles fired at Syrian government targets.

    It would be dangerous for any president to unilaterally escalate U.S. military involvement in the Syrian civil war, but for an erratic and unthinkingly bellicose president like Donald Trump to go down this path is reckless beyond measure. Trump promised to attack the Syrian government with no hint of strategy, no attempt at legal justification, and not even a whisper about what such an attack is supposed to achieve (the last time Trump bombed Syria, it was meant to deter further chemical attacks, which apparently didn’t work). The only things we know for sure about this planned military action is that Trump plans to go ahead without Congress’ input, and that he intends it to be a deliberate provocation of the nuclear-armed regional power that is deeply immersed in the Syrian civil war.

    Trump’s dashed-off pledge to strike against Syria raises critically important questions about U.S. Middle East policy, the power of the president to make war, and the dangers of a manifestly incompetent commander-in-chief making war plans based on what Fox & Friends chooses to cover. Faced with these weighty issues, however, the immediate reaction from the press was to focus on the least important aspect of Trump’s planned military action: whether he is a hypocrite for announcing it ahead of time.

    Immediately following Trump’s tweet, Twitter was full of pundits and reporters whose first reaction to the president’s announcement was to wryly poke at his past criticisms of presidents who telegraphed their attacks.

    NPR’s early reaction to Trump’s tweet was to focus on the hypocrisy angle. “This is a president who has made a big deal of not showing his hand, especially when it comes to really important decisions as commander-in-chief,” NPR’s David Greene reported shortly after Trump made the announcement. “He’s doing exactly what he criticized Obama for doing,” NPR’s Mara Liasson agreed.

    The reason reporters and pundits defaulted to the hypocrisy angle is because it’s an easy criticism that is ultimately meaningless and thus safe for them to have an opinion on. And it indicates how alarmingly comfortable much of the mainstream press is with the idea that the president can just up and decide to initiate military hostilities whenever, wherever, and for whatever reason -- even when there is no actual reason at all. It’s just another political game.

    The Trump administration has not offered a compelling legal rationale for its attacks on the Syrian government. It hasn’t secured or even asked for authorization from Congress. The administration hasn’t garnered the support of the U.N. or the international community. Instead, the White House is just barreling forward with the longstanding executive-branch practice of initiating hostilities and then slapping together a retroactive pseudo-justification that it confidently assumes won’t be seriously challenged.

    Few people seem especially bothered by this, and just about everyone is ready to accept that oafish hothead Donald Trump can bumble ass-first into another Middle Eastern quagmire because he’s the president and the president can do that. But as missiles careen into Syria and the U.S. lurches aimlessly into a broader military conflict involving Russia and Iran, at least we can say we called out Trump on Twitter for being inconsistent.

  • Trump parties with a birther who floated protecting schools from mass shooters with armed drones 

    Wayne Allyn Root spent a “magical evening” with Trump, alongside Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, from whom Trump already echoed a talking point

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On February 17, after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL that left at least 17 students and adults dead, far-right Trump supporter, birther, and conspiracy theorist Wayne Allyn Root tweeted at President Trump that it is “time to consider armed drones at every school in USA”:

    Hours later, Root tweeted about the “amazing night” he had with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

    Wayne Allyn Root is a talk show host and columnist for the Sheldon Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review-Journal who regularly pushes bizarre conspiracy theories. He helped spread fabricated reports of Puerto Rican truck drivers striking in the wake of Hurricane Maria in an attempt to make Trump look bad, claimed that Trump was “being victimized” by violence at his campaign rallies (and claimed media was blaming the victim), and fabricated a Seinfeld quote to attack President Obama, whom he called the “Marxist-in-Chief” and swore was a “foreign exchange student” at Columbia University. Root also pushes racist viewpoints. He claimed that “there’s no difference in when you call someone old versus when you call someone the N-word” and dismissed the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA as “paid actors & infiltrators hired by Soros.” 

    Regarding mass shootings, Root is no better: he claimed a real estate developer’s fine was a bigger story than the Parkland shooting and has repeatedly blamed the Las Vegas massacre on ISIS and/or antifa

    Joining Trump and Root at the “magical evening” at Mar-a-Lago was Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera. As CNN’s Brian Stelter noted on Reliable Sources, Rivera appeared on Fox News on Saturday morning to suggest that the FBI missed tips about the Parkland shooter because of an obsession with the Russia probe. Stelter pointed out that, according to The Washington Post, Rivera “had dinner with President Trump,” and that at 11:00 that same night, Trump tweeted the claim Rivera had shared earlier on Fox News. The claim is, of course, “nonsensical,” as Stelter explained:

    It's clear the president is feeling the heat of Robert Mueller's special counsel, and he's lashing out, implying that the FBI might have failed to stop the shooting because it's too obsessed with Russia. Let's be clear: The president is insulting your intelligence. Let's pull up FBI.gov, it says right there, "The FBI employs 35,000 people." 

    There are a small number of FBI agents working on the Mueller probe, but they have nothing to do with the investigation of tips like the one that was missed before the Parkland shooting.

  • Only one Sunday show talked to immigrants and DACA recipients

    While discussing Trump’s immigration proposal, only ABC’s This Week spoke with those directly impacted by it

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In discussions about President Donald Trump’s proposed immigration framework, ABC’s This Week was the only Sunday show that spoke to immigrants directly impacted by it. CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press only invited elected officials, members of the administration, and political pundits to discuss the issue.

    Trump’s proposal to lawmakers involves granting a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants including those protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, undocumented immigrants who would’ve qualified for the protections but didn’t sign up for the program, and others newly eligible. In addition, the plan calls for $25 billion for a border wall and other border security, eliminates the diversity visa lottery, enables the administration to increase its deportation capacities, and radically rolls back family-based immigration, which would sharply cut legal immigration. The proposal has been criticized for its ties to white nationalist ideology.

    Only ABC’s This Week spoke to immigrants and DACA recipients who would be directly impacted by the plan:

    When it comes to immigration coverage, media have a history of ignoring the voices of those affected the most by immigration policies. In September, only a day after Trump rescinded DACA, less than 10 percent of guests invited to discuss the policy on cable news networks were DACA recipients. Networks have often helped mainstream anti-immigrant extremism by inviting on members of nativist groups and normalizing pejorative nativist buzzwords.

    As Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, told CNN’s Brian Stelter on the January 28 edition of Reliable Sources, the way audiences learn about “people outside of our own communities is through the media.” As a matter of good journalism, networks should make an effort to elevate voices less heard, especially in a conversation as important as immigration policy.