David Urban | Media Matters for America

David Urban

Tags ››› David Urban
  • The right-wing media figures defending Sean Hannity’s relationship with Michael Cohen

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & BOBBY LEWIS

    Right-wing media figures are jumping to defend Fox News host Sean Hannity after it was revealed that Hannity has been a client of longtime lawyer to President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen. Hannity’s defenders are suggesting that he has “been victimized” by the revelation of his name, claiming that he “wasn’t engaging” Cohen “as a lawyer,” and even arguing that Hannity possibly “did not know he was a client of Michael Cohen."

  • CNN's "both sides" problem infects coverage of Trump's anti-Muslim retweets

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    President Donald Trump’s latest anti-Muslim retweet spree was racist, misleading, and, above all, indefensible.

    Somehow CNN didn’t get the memo.

    Trump on November 29 retweeted three anti-Muslim videos that were posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the far-right, ultranationalist Britain First political organization, who has previously been "charged with causing religiously aggravated harassment.”

    Beyond being incredibly racist, these tweets were also highly misleading. Several media outlets fact-checked the claims in these videos, determining one of them to be “false” and all three “overlaid with a message meant to be a blunt hammer blow for a cause.” Additionally, civil rights groups pointed out that Trump’s tweets “further inflame” violence and hate aimed at Muslims in a climate when “hate crimes motivated by anti-Muslim bias are at an all-time high.”

    Trump's retweets were widely condemned by American and British officials, including Prime Minister Theresa May. However, CNN covered these tweets, as it covers many other issues, through a series of panel discussions comprising talking heads who move the conversation absolutely nowhere. Many of these panels were stacked with a Trump supporter who attempted to defend the president’s atrocious social media posts.

    On CNN Newsroom with John Berman and Poppy Harlow, CNN contributor Ben Ferguson stated, “If I would have seen these videos … I would have probably tweeted that out and said to myself, ‘This is something the world needs to see.’”

    On CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, CNN political commentator Andre Bauer claimed the U.S. has gotten “numb to the continual victimization of American people by people that come over to this country to cause us harm” and praised Trump for “continu[ing] to remind us about it.”

    On The Lead with Jake Tapper, CNN political commentator and former Trump campaign strategist David Urban dismissed “the notion that somehow we’re radicalizing folks in the rest of the world” through the spread of anti-Muslim propaganda.

    On Anderson Cooper 360, panelist James Schultz, who served as White House ethics lawyer under Trump, attempted to defend the president by asserting that “radical Islamic terrorists do bad things.” Schultz claimed, “It’s not the best choice of videos. Without a doubt, they are fake videos. But for you to say [Trump’s] characterizing all Muslims that way, it’s just flat out wrong.”

    And on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, CNN political commentator Ed Martin said the series of tweets was “not a very good move,” but that critics of the tweets were “missing the forest for the trees. No one that looks with a serious eye at Europe doesn’t recognize that there is a problem with Muslim and Islamic fanatics.” Martin contended that Trump’s tweets were helping the problem by “starting a conversation.”

    CNN’s “both sides” panel structure assumes that every issue has two valid sides, and that often those sides are best defined along partisan lines. In the case of Trump’s tweets, that is patently false. These tweets are bigoted and misleading, and anyone who says otherwise is not being intellectually or morally honest.

    By introducing two sides to this debate, CNN is muddying the truth about these videos. Given that we now live in an age where the president often takes his cues from what he sees on cable news, CNN’s “both sides” strategy is irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

  • Pro-Trump CNN commentator used network to push lobbying client without disclosure to viewers

    CNN’s pro-Trump contributors continue to damage the network’s journalism brand

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    During a recent prime-time appearance, CNN political commentator David Urban touted the National Association of Home Builders' opposition to the current GOP tax reform bill. Neither Urban nor the network mentioned that NAHB is his lobbying client, and that it hired him specifically to lobby on tax reform.

    Urban is a former Trump campaign adviser who is now the president of the American Continental Group (ACG), a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm with dozens of clients (and potential conflicts of interest with his CNN work). ACG touts Urban's CNN position to current and potential clients in the first paragraph of his profile on its website, stating that he is “a political commentator on CNN and can be seen almost daily on a variety of the network’s programming.“

    Urban appeared on Anderson Cooper 360’s November 7 coverage of that day’s election results and brought up the National Association of Home Builders unprompted, stating:

    DAVID URBAN: The tax bill will rise or fall under its own weight. Now the president has nothing to do with it. You see the National Association of Home Builders, NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business], coming against the tax bill, traditional Republican stalwarts who support the party opposing this bill. This bill has serious problems. It will rise or fall on its own merits. The president has nothing to do with it.

    CNN and Urban did not disclose that he is a lobbyist for NAHB on that very issue. The association has paid ACG $150,000 this year to lobby on “tax reform,” among other issues, according to federal records.

    In a recent report on the fight over tax reform, The New York Times described NAHB as an “influential and often Republican-aligned” group that’s working to shape tax reform legislation. Back in September, the NAHB said that it was “enthusiastically backing” Trump’s tax plan because it would offer “incentives for home mortgage interest and cutting the rate for pass-through businesses to 25 percent from as high as 39.6 percent.” Recently, however, the association’s leaders said they couldn’t back the Republicans’ latest bill because GOP leaders “wouldn’t accept an idea home builders and lawmakers had been working on: repealing the deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes and replacing them with a new tax credit,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

    Urban has also used his CNN position to push for reducing the “tax burden” on “American companies.” During the October 27 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, Urban stated: “I think there is a sense of urgency to free up some money for American workers, American companies to bring money back home and invest in their company. So, there's a great need. The tax burden is too great on American working class folks and American companies, want to try to get some parity with the rest of the world." His lobbying for clients on taxes weren't disclosed to viewers during that segment (Note: Sentence added after posting for clarity.)

    According to federal records, in addition to NAHB, Urban has lobbied for numerous companies and organizations on taxes this year, including Comcast Corporation, the National Retail Federation, and Walgreen.

    CNN and Urban did not respond to requests for comment. 

    Urban is also a lobbyist for CNN parent company Time Warner on copyright and trademark issues, the "Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2017," and "general" media issues. AT&T is attempting to acquire Time Warner but the Justice Department has yet to approve that deal.

    Media Matters and other observers have commented on how CNN’s paid pro-Trump commentators have been a headache for the network and contributed to a carnival atmosphere instead of reliable coverage.

  • Study: CNN's paid Trump shills made more than 500 appearances over the last three months

    The network is making a big show of its commitment to facts while paying Trump apologists to lie

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    “This is an apple,” begins the voice-over for an ad CNN is running as part of its new “Facts First” promotional campaign. “Some people might try to tell you that it’s a banana,” the narration continues. “They might scream banana, banana, banana over and over and over again. They might put banana in ALL CAPS. You might even start to believe that this is a banana. But it’s not. This is an apple.”

    The network’s new branding stresses that “there is no alternative to a fact” and that “opinions matter” but “don’t change the facts.”

    CNN’s campaign seems driven by the post-truth political environment. President Donald Trump and his administration lie constantly and try to undermine the credibility of other sources of information, including CNN and other media outlets. By confusing the public about what is happening, they hope to maintain power. With top White House aides openly declaring their adherence to “alternative facts,” it makes sense for credible journalists to try to rally around the need for reporting to reflect reality.

    But if CNN is truly worried about the sort of people who tell you that an apple is really a banana, the network should deal with the stable of pundits it has hired to provide viewers with knee-jerk defenses of the president. Those Trump apologists -- some of whom were previously on Trump’s payroll -- actively harm CNN’s journalism, frequently bringing panel discussions to a screeching halt with claims so dishonest they approach parody, at times drawing on-air rebukes from the network’s anchors. The pundits force the network to constantly debate whether the apple is really a banana.

    In August, media reporter Michael Calderone identified 13 pundits on the CNN payroll “who, to varying degrees, can be identified as pro-Trump”: former Republican Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, talk radio host Ben Ferguson, former Bush White House official Scott Jennings, former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, former Trump campaign spokesperson Jason Miller, former Trump adviser Stephen Moore, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), Republican strategist Alice Stewart, former Trump campaign official David Urban, talk radio host John Phillips, former Bush White House staffer Paris Dennard and former U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker. Since then, the network has hired Ed Martin, former chair of the Missouri Republican Party, to round out the roster.

    As Calderone notes, the pundits are not monolithic, with some even offering criticism for the president from time to time. But on balance, the group reliably tilts discussions, often negatively impacting the ability of viewers to come away from the network’s coverage with a strong grasp of the facts.

    Over the past three months, those 14 pundits have made 510 appearances on CNN -- an average of more than five appearances a day -- according to a Media Matters review. Jennings and Ferguson have led the way, with 73 and 69 appearances, respectively. Moore, Kingston, and Stewart round out the top five, each with at least 50 appearances.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    CNN has been paying Trump shills to provide on-air commentary since the 2016 presidential campaign, apparently having learned nothing from the disastrous results.

    At the time, the network hired pro-Trump pundits like Jeffrey Lord, Corey Lewandowski, and Kayleigh McEnany, claiming that it was important to employ full-time Trump apologists to provide “balance” in its election coverage. Those pundits turned the network’s political coverage into a shit show, with segments devolving to bedlam as the network’s hosts and other contributors tried to push back against a steady stream of lies, talking points, and misdirection. The result may have attracted eyeballs, but it certainly was not a credible news product that distinguished fact from fiction.

    And those relationships ended in humiliation for CNN: Lord was fired in August after he directed a Nazi victory salute at my boss; the Republican National Committee hired away McEnany to, among other things, produce propaganda videos; and Lewandowski remained on the Trump payroll while simultaneously working for CNN until he finally quit to monetize his relationship with the president full time.

    The network has soldiered on since the election, hiring a phalanx of pro-Trump fabulists to populate its panels of reporters, analysts, and pundits. Not every pro-Trump pundit is as bad as Lord or McEnany -- from time to time, some will even offer criticism of the president. But the willingness of many of them to shill for the president regardless of the truth -- to send discussions into a tailspin by saying an apple is a banana -- flies in the face of the network’s stated “facts first” commitment.

    Ferguson, for example, has repeatedly been called out by his CNN colleagues this month for offering nonsensical diversions in discussions of Trump’s attacks on NFL players who protest racial inequality during the National Anthem. And Moore -- who typically appears on the network to lie about Trump-backed health care proposals -- on Monday derailed a CNN panel discussion about then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly paying a hefty sexual harassment settlement by saying that the real solution is for powerful men to never be alone in a room alone with a woman. Kingston, for his part, last night attempted to make excuses for Trump’s unprecedented falsehoods, saying that “the American perception is that politicians lie” and Trump is no worse than other presidents; the rest of the panel denounced him, with anchor Don Lemon scolding him for “condoning bad behavior.”

    When major stories break, such as Trump’s string of indefensible responses to the lethal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, Trump’s CNN supporters blanket the network’s coverage. That result was a trainwreck, with the president’s shills sidelining discussions with praise for Trump’s response and dismissals of the importance of the rally.

    CNN isn’t the first major news outlet to run an advertising campaign geared around its opposition to Trumpian “alternative facts.” The New York Times sold subscriptions earlier this year with similar patter, proclaiming that “the truth is more important now than ever.” But the paper drew controversy almost immediately when it violated that commitment by hiring a climate change denier for a coveted columnist slot.

    As I noted at the time, “When you market your paper as an antidote to a worldview that is unmoored from reality, your subscribers will actually expect you to follow through. When you fail to fulfill your promise, those readers will take their money elsewhere.” Now it’s CNN taking on the mantle of bold truth teller. Perhaps the network should start by first examining its own household.

    Additional research by Shelby Jamerson.

  • Conservative media deflect from James Comey's testimony by attacking his sexuality and gender

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Several right-wing media figures attempted to deflect from the substance of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony about President Donald Trump’s alleged interference in the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn by attacking his gender and sexuality, saying of his written statement that “men don’t write like this” and claiming that he needed to “cowboy up” and tell someone about Trump’s actions when they happened.