Dana Milbank | Media Matters for America

Dana Milbank

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  • Leading Up To The Election, Media Outlets Highlight The Importance Of LGBT Voters


    Over the past few weeks, media outlets have pointed out the potential impact of LGBT voters in both swing states and local races in the 2016 election, highlighting the “biggest and most sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort ever” organized by the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, and noting that LGBT voters “might help tip the scale red or blue.” Journalists have also focused on the swing state of North Carolina, where anti-LGBT law House Bill 2 (HB 2) has the potential to be a “critical driver” of voter turnout.

  • Here Are All The Reasons Media Think Trump Is Not Releasing His Tax Returns

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    After Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reiterated his plan not to release his tax returns prior to the election due to an IRS audit -- despite the IRS saying he is not precluded from doing so -- media figures questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s excuse, arguing instead that it could be due to his possible business dealings with Russia, paying little to no taxes, and not giving to charity, among other reasons.

  • Wash. Post’s Dana Milbank: Trump Loves Conspiracies Until They Involve Him

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has finally found a conspiracy he doesn’t like -- one that involves himself.

    Milbank’s column noted reports that security experts say Russian hackers are behind the publication of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails on the night before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, PA. The timing and sourcing of the email dump led media to question whether Russian officials were attempting to influence United States elections and whether Trump had any connections to Russian officials that may have played a role in the hack.

    Trump has a well-documented history of invoking and encouraging conspiracy theories, claiming a “fix” was in when the FBI decided not to indict Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server as secretary of state, suggesting President Barack Obama was sympathetic to terrorists and not an American citizen, and claiming the suicide of a Clinton aide was “very fishy.” Trump has also praised conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who believes the government coordinated the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that a New World Order plans to exterminate 80 percent of the world.

    In the July 26 article, Milbank wrote that despite engaging in theories that “President Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered and that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination,” Trump is "conspicuously incurious" about suggestions that he is working with Vladimir Putin to swing the U.S. presidential election. If Clinton were in Trump’s position, Milbank wrote, “it’s a safe bet that Trump would be demanding that Clinton release her tax returns to prove that she’s not beholden to Putin.” From the Milbank column:

    Donald Trump never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like — until now.

    He has dabbled in, among other things, the notion that President Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered and that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination.

    But on one topic, Trump is conspicuously incurious: the suggestion that he is complicit in a plan by Vladimir Putin to influence the U.S. election. Consider how Trump might react to the following fact pattern if the candidate involved weren’t “Donald Trump” but — let’s pick a name at random here — “Hillary Clinton”:

    The candidate’s real estate empire, unable to borrow from most U.S. banks, gets capital from Russian sources. Such transfers couldn’t occur without Putin’s blessing.


    If the Clinton campaign, and not the Trump campaign, were so extensively interwoven with Putin’s Russia, it’s a safe bet that Trump would be demanding that Clinton release her tax returns to prove that she’s not beholden to Putin — just as he demanded Obama release his birth certificate.

    He would also very likely float allegations masquerading as questions by using the phrases “a lot of people have said” or “I’m hearing,” or “there’s something we don’t know about.” But Trump, I’m hearing, won’t be doing that in this case. 

  • Media Highlight The “Misleading” Evidence Used During Congressional Panel’s Attack On Planned Parenthood

    Second Select Panel Hearing Was Just Like “A Bad House Of Cards Plotline”

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Following the Congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives’ second hearing, multiple media outlets heavily criticized the Republican members’ continued lack of objectivity. The select panel was established by Republicans in October 2015 based on discredited allegations against Planned Parenthood from the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Despite claiming to be “impartial,” Republican members during both hearings have relied on CMP’s deceptive work as evidence.

  • Washington Post’s Dana Milbank Explains How The GOP Have Discredited Their Own Anti-Planned Parenthood Investigation

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank pointed out Republicans discredited their own investigation into Planned Parenthood after Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) attended an anti-Planned Parenthood protest while leading the congressional investigation into whether the organization illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue, a claim created and pushed by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress (CMP) in deceptively edited videos. Congressional Republicans convened the first hearing of Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives on March 2 to investigate the ethics and morality of using fetal tissue for research. During that hearing the majority GOP panel relied on research and materials stemming from the baseless allegations from Center For Medical Progress. Panel members have also been fed information from the radical anti-abortion group Protest ABQ, a group with a history of harassing abortion providers and has connections to Operation Rescue, another radical anti-abortion group with a history of extreme rhetoric. Rep. Blackburn claimed the videos released by CMP “revealed that something very troubling is going on related to fetal tissues research.” In an April 20 Washington Post op-ed, columnist Dana Milbank highlighted how congressional Republicans undermined their own investigation and the appearance of impartiality after Rep. Blackburn appeared in a protest against Planned Parenthood, “the very entity she is supposed to be investigating. Milbank wrote that whatever “legitimacy” the panel had left, had been “undermined by Blackburn”:

    Marsha Blackburn isn’t one to worry about appearances.

    The Tennessee Republican didn’t make any pretense this week of being impartial with the committee she chairs, the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, commonly known as the Planned Parenthood committee.

    On the eve of her panel’s Wednesday’s hearing, Blackburn went over to Georgetown University to participate in a protest against Planned Parenthood, the very entity she is supposed to be investigating. According to the Right to Life organization, she gave a speech at a gathering called “Life-Affirming Alternatives to Planned Parenthood,” part of a series of events in opposition to Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards’s speech at Georgetown on Wednesday.

    Then Blackburn showed up at her committee hearing the next morning and proclaimed, “My hope is that both parties can work together.”

    That was probably never going to happen — and it certainly isn’t now that the secret videos that justified the committee’s creation have been discredited as doctored.


    GOP leaders, in naming Blackburn to lead the Planned Parenthood panel, had hopes of defusing the Democrats’ complaint that the probe was another offensive in the Republicans’ “war on women.” That charge has been easier to make with Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential race — and with several House Republicans on Monday making the extraordinary gesture of voting against a ceremonial bill honoring the first woman to be elected to Congress.

    But whatever legitimacy the select panel had left after the videos were discredited has been undermined by Blackburn.


    GOP leaders, in naming Blackburn to lead the Planned Parenthood panel, had hopes of defusing the Democrats’ complaint that the probe was another offensive in the Republicans’ “war on women.” That charge has been easier to make with Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential race — and with several House Republicans on Monday making the extraordinary gesture of voting against a ceremonial bill honoring the first woman to be elected to Congress.

    But whatever legitimacy the select panel had left after the videos were discredited has been undermined by Blackburn.

    Despite a Texas grand jury clearing Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing and indicting 2 CMP employees based on the fraudulent nature of the smear videos, House Republicans moved forward with their special committee to investigate abortion service providers and fetal tissue donations.


  • Media Slam Paul Ryan's Refusal To Condemn Trump As A "De Facto Endorsement"

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Media outlets and figures from across the political spectrum criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) for refusing to condemn Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump in his March 23 speech where he called for "elevating the national political discourse." According to media figures, Ryan's refusal to condemn Trump amounts to a "tacit acceptance" and "de facto endorsement."

  • "The Guy Scares Me": Holocaust Survivors Warn About The Danger Of Trump's Right-Wing Media Approved Rhetoric

    Trump's Candidacy And Plans Have Been Hailed By Right-Wing And White Nationalist Media Figures

    ››› ››› LIS POWER

    On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Holocaust survivors warned about the demagoguery and rhetoric espoused by Donald Trump that they say echoes back to Nazi Germany -- the same rhetoric which has been sanctioned by right-wing media and praised by white nationalist media as "wonderful."

  • Washington Post's Milbank Calls Out Conservative Media And Political Leaders For Demonizing Abortion Providers

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After the fatal November 27 shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood health care facility, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank called out prominent conservative media figures and Republican presidential candidates for their incendiary rhetoric about abortion, such as characterizing abortion providers as "subhuman killers."

    Planned Parenthood came under renewed persecution from conservatives and Republicans after the anti-abortion group Center For Medical Progress released a series of doctored videos, claiming to show Planned Parenthood officials trafficking fetal baby parts. The controversy led to multiple government investigations that have shown Planned Parenthood didn't violate laws in its donation of fetal tissue to scientific research. Since the release of the Center for Medical Progress' videos, the FBI warned of increased attacks on reproductive health care facilities. This "uptick" in violence occurred around the same time congressional Republicans attempted to stop all government funding of Planned Parenthood.

    Milbank's November 30 opinion piece highlighted Republican candidates' calls for "outrage" and conservative media figures comparing Planned Parenthood to Nazis after the release of the deceptively edited CMP videos, warning that unhinged individuals may use this rhetoric as "justification to contemplate the unspeakable":

    In one sense, I agree with Cruz. The antiabortion movement did not kill those three people in Colorado Springs. The one responsible is the deranged gunman himself. But it's a different matter to ask whether the often-violent imagery used by conservative leaders on abortion is unwittingly giving the unhinged some perverse sense of justification to contemplate the unspeakable.

    Just days before the shooting, Cruz trumpeted an endorsement from an antiabortion activist who once called killing an abortion doctor a "justifiable defensive action" and who leads a group, Operation Rescue, where a colleague did prison time for a conspiracy to bomb an abortion clinic.

    The activist whose endorsement Cruz celebrated, Troy Newman, is also on the board of the Center for Medical Progress, which made the surreptitious Planned Parenthood videos that prompted Cruz and many other conservatives to accuse the organization of selling "baby parts" -- the phrase Dear allegedly used.


    There will always be the irrational and the unstable. But when political leaders turn disagreements into all-out war, demonize opponents as enemies and accuse those on the other side of being subhuman killers, the unbalanced can hear messages that were never intended.

    Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who has flirted with the idea of using federal troops to block access to abortion, dismissed the Supreme Court's authority and said that we should "protect children instead of rip up their body parts and sell them like they're parts to a Buick."

    Rival Carly Fiorina said, incorrectly, that the Planned Parenthood videos showed "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, 'We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.' "

    Chris Christie talked of "the systematic murder of children in the womb to preserve their body parts," while Marco Rubio asked on Twitter: "Where is all the outrage over the planned parenthood dead babies?"

    Leading conservative commentators Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have likened Planned Parenthood practices to those of the Nazis, and Emily's List, an abortion rights political group, has tracked violent or apocalyptic images served up by presidential candidates: Rand Paul said he doesn't think "civilization can long endure" with abortion rights; Ben Carson likened those who have abortions to slave owners; Huckabee talked about the "holocaust" of abortion and compared the morality of Planned Parenthood to that of the Islamic State; and Rubio spoke of people being "pushed into abortions so that those tissues can be harvested and sold for a profit."

    After the Colorado shooting, Donald Trump condemned the killing but, asked by NBC's Chuck Todd if he could "understand why people might react this way" to the Planned Parenthood videos, replied: "Well, there's tremendous -- there's tremendous dislike, I can say that."

    And of course there's Cruz, who said Planned Parenthood committed "multiple felonies" and who recently signed a letter with other GOP lawmakers saying (falsely) that Margaret Sanger, a founder of the group that became Planned Parenthood, sought the "extermination" of black people.

  • Media Adopt Double-Standard With Demands For Independent Review Of Clinton Email


    Media outlets are demanding that Hillary Clinton be subject to an independent review of her personal email account to disprove their own baseless suggestions that she engaged in illicit activity or failed to properly disclose all work-related correspondence. The demand ignores that every State Department employee, regardless of whether they use government or personal accounts, decides for themselves whether or not to preserve their emails.

  • FLASHBACK: When Millions Of Lost Bush White House Emails (From Private Accounts) Triggered A Media Shrug

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Even for a Republican White House that was badly stumbling through George W. Bush's sixth year in office, the revelation on April 12, 2007 was shocking. Responding to congressional demands for emails in connection with its investigation into the partisan firing of eight U.S. attorneys, the White House announced that as many as five million emails, covering a two-year span, had been lost.

    The emails had been run through private accounts controlled by the Republican National Committee and were only supposed to be used for dealing with non-administration political campaign work to avoid violating ethics laws. Yet congressional investigators already had evidence private emails had been used for government business, including to discuss the firing of one of the U.S. attorneys. The RNC accounts were used by 22 White House staffers, including then-Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who reportedly used his RNC email for 95 percent of his communications.

    As the Washington Post reported, "Under federal law, the White House is required to maintain records, including e-mails, involving presidential decision- making and deliberations." But suddenly millions of the private RNC emails had gone missing; emails that were seen as potentially crucial evidence by Congressional investigators.

    The White House email story broke on a Wednesday. Yet on that Sunday's Meet The Press, Face The Nation, and Fox News Sunday, the topic of millions of missing White House emails did not come up. At all. (The story did get covered on ABC's This Week.)

    By comparison, not only did every network Sunday news show this week cover the story about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emails, but they were drowning in commentary. Between Meet the Press, Face The Nation, This Week, and Fox News Sunday, Clinton's "email" or "emails" were referenced more than 100 times on the programs, according to Nexis transcripts. Talk about saturation coverage.

    Indeed, the commentary for the last week truly has been relentless, with the Beltway press barely pausing to catch its breath before unloading yet another round of "analysis," most of which provides little insight but does allow journalists to vent about the Clintons.

    What has become clear over the last eight days however is that the Clinton email story isn't about lawbreaking. "Experts have said it doesn't appear Clinton violated federal laws," CNN conceded. "But that hasn't stemmed the issue that has become more about bad optics and politics than any actual wrongdoing." The National Law Journal agreed, noting that while the story has created a political furor, "any legal consequences are likely to prove negligible."

    Still, the scandal machine churns on determined to the treat the story as a political blockbuster, even though early polling indicates the kerfuffle will not damage Clinton's standing.  

    Looking back, it's curious how the D.C. scandal machine could barely get out of first gear when the Bush email story broke in 2007.  I'm not suggesting the press ignored the Rove email debacle, because the story was clearly covered at the time. But triggering a firestorm (a guttural roar) that raged for days and consumed the Beltway chattering class the way the D.C. media has become obsessed with the Clinton email story?  Absolutely not. Not even close. 

  • Where Are The "Comeback" Columns About Obama?

    They Were A D.C. Media Staple Under Bush

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    For a "lame duck" politician who's supposed to be licking his wounds after the Democratic Party's steep midterm losses, President Obama these days probably doesn't mind scanning the headlines each morning. Instead of confirming the slow motion demise so many in the pundit class had mapped out for him, the headlines paint a picture of a president, and a country, in many ways on the rebound:  

    -U.S. Economic Confidence Index at 17-Month High

    -America is Free of Ebola Cases

    -U.S. November Auto Sales Pace Best Since 2003

    -G.O.P.-Led Benghazi Panel Bolsters Administration

    -What The Huge Drop In Gasoline Prices Means For America

    - Dow Hits Another Record Close

    That's probably more good news for Obama in one month than he had in the previous three combined.

    And that selection of headlines doesn't cover news of the most recent smooth and efficient enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, the announcement of Obama's executive action to deal with the languishing issue of immigration, his high-profile endorsement of net neutrality, or the United States' landmark agreement with China to confront climate change.

    As for Obama's approval rating, it has remained steady in recent months, just as it has for virtually all of 2014.  But aren't lame ducks supposed to tumble after tough midterm defeats, the way President George W. Bush did right after the 2006 votes?

    Meanwhile, the assumption that Republicans had boxed Obama in politically via their midterm momentum and would be able to bully him around (impeachment! A government shutdown!) hasn't yet come to fruition. To date, their main response to the immigration executive order that Obama issued has been for Republicans to cast a symbolic vote of disapproval. (i.e. Obama called their bluff.)

    Already the bloom seems to be coming off the GOP's win. "According to the survey, 50 percent of Americans believe the GOP taking control of the House and the Senate next year will be bad for America," CNN reported this week.

    None of this is to say that Obama's surging or that paramount hurdles don't remain on the horizon. But some recent developments do undercut a widely held consensus in the Beltway press that Obama's presidency effectively ended with the midterms and that his tenure might be viewed as a failed one.

    Right after the election, a November Economist editorial announced, "Mr. Obama cannot escape the humiliating verdict on his presidency." Glimmers of hope after the midterms were no reason to think Obama had "somehow crawled out of the dark place that voters put him," the Washington Post assured readers. (Post columnist Dana Milbank has recently tagged Obama as a hapless "bystander" who's "turning into George W. Bush.") And a McClatchy Newspapers headline declared, "President Obama Is Now Truly A Lame Duck."

    But as the facts on the ground now change, many in the press seem reluctant to drop its preferred script and adjust to the headlines that suggest Obama's second term is not shaping up to be the wreck so many pundits hinted it would be.

  • How Lazy "Optics" Chatter Replaced Beltway Analysis

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Critics pounced after President Obama recently addressed the rising threat of the terror group Islamic State. His answers didn't represent "a national rallying cry" (National Journal). He sent "mixed messages" (ABC News). The president was guilty of an "inartful phrase" (Politico), and he wasn't projecting "an image of presidential resolve" (Washington Post).

    The president hadn't necessarily said anything inaccurate or made controversial claims. Critics just didn't like the way he said what he said. It didn't look or sound quite right.

    On Meet The Press, Obama conceded he had made a specific error when he played golf after making a public statement about the brutal beheading of American journalist James Foley. "I should've anticipated the optics," he said. "Part of this job is also the theater of it." And he's right, optics do matter for a commander-in-chief, especially in his role as communicator. But optics and stagecraft aren't the only thing. And Beltway pundits proved themselves to be poor judges of optics when a Republican last occupied the Oval Office.

    Please recall that the press loved President George Bush's "Mission Accomplished" optics in 2003, which foolishly implied the United States had won the war in Iraq.  (NBC's Brian Williams: "He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit.") And don't forget Bush's "bring them on" taunt when he was asked about escalating attacks on American troops inside Iraq. (More than 4,000 Americans subsequently died in fighting there.)

    A common complaint about the Beltway press is that journalists obsess over process at the expense of substance. (i.e. Who's up, who's down?) Sadly, we've now eroded to the point where process journalism has been eclipsed by an even more meaningless pursuit: "optics."

    Another description for the current press malady is theater criticism. Theater criticism means you don't offer solutions; you don't offer insights or analysis. Theater criticism means you simply detail everything the pitch-poor actor does wrong in terms of word choice, inflection and public emotion. (Or golfing.) Analysis is different. It's more difficult, more rigorous, and it's much needed.

    Instead we got the tan suit meltdown. This was an actual tweet last month from one of the largest news organization in America:

    How did we arrive at a place so trivial and vacuous?

  • Conventional Wisdom And The (Latest) Death Of Gun Safety


    ObamaMedia pundits never seem to tire of writing gun violence prevention's obituary. They seem determined to create a conventional wisdom that no progress on the issue is possible, and shut down any effort to renew a dialogue on public safety legislation that has gone quiet in the halls of Congress despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun laws.

    Last week it was the recall election defeats of two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws that caused some commentators to declare "The Death of Gun Control." They didn't let the facts stand in their way -- the gun laws in question were broadly popular statewide, the recall turnout was extremely low, and efforts by conservatives to recall other pro-gun safety legislators failed. In years past, media have that the power of the National Rifle Association would prevent stronger gun laws from getting consideration.

    Now pundits are claiming that comments from the Obama administration following the Navy Yard shooting, deemed insufficiently robust in their calls for stronger laws, mean "RIP for gun control," in the words of The Washington Post's Dana Milbank.

    Milbank writes in his September 17 column that "President Obama didn't even try to use the massacre at the Washington Navy Yard to revive the gun-control debate," apparently considering Obama's statement in response to the attack that his administration will "do everything that we can to try to prevent" future tragedies insufficiently specific. In fact, it's not appreciably less specific than his remarks in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, in which he did not lay out any policy goals but said only that "we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."

    One tea leaf Milbank reads to bolster his case that the gun violence prevention debate is over is a selective quotation of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:

    At the White House on Tuesday, the Associated Press's Julie Pace noted Obama's subdued response to the shooting and asked if "maybe there's some sort of numbness among the public since these shootings have happened so frequently." Another questioner asked if there's "an exhaustion and an acceptance that this is the new normal."

    Press secretary Jay Carney said the president "doesn't accept that it's the new normal."

    Maybe not. But the loss of hope for gun control is becoming a durable abnormal.

    In fact, a fuller account of Carney's remarks shows that he said the Obama administration would continue to use executive action to address gun violence (the White House announced two new executive actions on gun violence on August 29) and that the administration "continue[s] to call on Congress to listen to the voices of their constituents and legislate accordingly."