James Poniewozik | Media Matters for America

James Poniewozik

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  • Media Falsely Give Trump Credit For A Ford Plant Not Moving To Mexico

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media are uncritically hyping President-elect Donald Trump’s false claim that he should be credited for Ford Motor Co.’s decision not to relocate a plant from Kentucky to Mexico, despite the fact that the plant was never going to close and no jobs were going to be lost. While right-wing media hyped Trump’s claim on its face as proof of his political success, mainstream media echoed that pro-Trump spin in a series of misleading headlines, which critics have called out for being out of context and “completely wrong.”

  • The Bar Gets Lower: Media Reinforce Double Standard For Trump Ahead Of First Debate

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    As the first presidential debate approaches, media figures across the political spectrum are actively lowering the bar for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, both by setting lower standards themselves and by pushing the lower-standard narrative. Yet at the same time, many media figures are acknowledging that the press is employing a double standard in its treatment of Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

  • Media Finally Admit The Bar Is Lower For Trump. But Can They Fix It?

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Memo to the media: You cannot have it both ways on the double standard applied to presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

    After NBC’s Commander in Chief Forum, reporters and pundits proclaimed that media have held the two presidential nominees to different standards of knowledge and conduct, yet these media figures have also perpetuated the double standard by excusing Trump’s behavior and applauding him any time he shows a veneer of conventionality.

    Numerous media figures criticized Matt Lauer, host of the September 7 forum, for employing different questioning toward Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Lauer allowed Trump to lie about opposing the Iraq war, yet he used eight of his first nine questions for Clinton to grill her over her emails. Several media figures said Lauer’s line of questioning embodied the “double standard” that reporters across the board use to analyze the two candidates.

    If Media Figures Note The Double Standard ... 

    • MSNBC's Mike Barnicle: Trump Is The "Continued Beneficiary Of A Huge Double Standard." The morning after the forum, MSNBC’s Mike Barnicle told Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough that Lauer interviewed Trump “as if he were the co-host or the host of The Apprentice,” rather than a presidential candidate, noting, “Syria wasn’t mentioned. Aleppo wasn’t mentioned. The refugee crisis wasn’t mentioned.” He noted that the forum showed Trump is the “continued beneficiary of a huge double standard.”
       
    • Wash. Post Contributor Paul Waldman: “Hillary Clinton Gets Examined In A Very Different Way Than Donald Trump Does.” Following the forum, Washington Post contributor Paul Waldman explained that Clinton “gets examined in a very different way than Trump does” by the media. Speaking on the September 7 edition of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, Waldman faulted media for taking an “all hands on deck mentality” when reporting Clinton news -- saying that “everybody will investigate every nook and cranny to see if there’s anything there that looks untoward. And even if there isn’t, it becomes this story that drags out over the course of days and even weeks” -- as opposed to “strings of issues” about Trump that are reported once and then forgotten.
       
    • Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin: “Trump Is Being Held To A Less High Standard.” ” Prior to the forum, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin told co-host John Heilemann that “the Clinton campaign is right” that “Trump is being held to a less high standard” by reporters and that “the press is just not holding him accountable.” Halperin continued, “Trump is doing things that if Clinton did, she would be hit a lot harder,” and he urged media to “work on fixing that.” Co-host John Heilemann agreed with Halperin, despite having defended the double standard the week prior, when he said that “sometimes … you have to set the bar low” for Trump.
       
    • NY Times' Maggie Haberman: "The Bar Has Been Lowered For Trump Repeatedly." New York Times political correspondent Maggie Haberman said on CNN’s New Day leading up to the forum that Trump “keeps getting graded on a curve” and “the bar has been lowered for Trump repeatedly.” Haberman criticized media figures who assess Trump by asking, “Does he merely pass?” And then if he does, they record it as Trump “did very well.”
       
    • NY Times’ James Poniewozik Slams Lauer For Questioning Trump On A Curve. New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik scolded Lauer for treating Clinton “like someone running for president” but Trump “like someone running to figure out how to be president, eventually.” Poniewozik wrote that after grilling Clinton on her private email server, Lauer pitched Trump “the kind of whiffle ball job-interview” questions “you ask the boss’s nephew you know you have to hire anyway.”
       
    • CNN’s Brian Stelter: “It Is True That Trump Is Held To A Different Standard Than Clinton.” The day after the forum, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter told CNN host Ashleigh Banfield that “it is true that Trump is held to a different standard than Clinton” and said that “no doubt, at the forum, there was different treatment for Trump versus Clinton.”

    ... But Have Perpetuated It ...

    Despite all this commentary, media figures have consistently perpetuated the double standard, holding Trump to a lower bar than they do Clinton in terms of behavioral and ethical conduct -- and in measures of veracity. Most recently, when a report came out that Trump paid a fine to the IRS for making an illegal $25,000 donation to the 2013 re-election campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, broadcast news networks devoted a third as much as time to the matter as they provided to a flawed Associated Press story on the Clinton Foundation that proved no ethics breaches.

    Media figures have previously repeatedly pardoned Trump’s widely criticized rhetoric, policy flip-flops, and divisive comments because he’s “not a politician” and is “learning as he goes”:

    • Fox Hosts Excused Trump's Abortion Comments Because "He's Learning As He Goes." Hosts of Fox News’ Fox & Friends excused Trump’s statement in March that there should be some kind of punishment for women who obtain abortions, suggesting that Trump should not be expected to answer questions about abortion because they’re usually reserved for more experienced politicians. Co-host Steve Doocy excused Trump, saying, “He only became a politician about six or seven months ago.”
       
    • CNN’s Mark Preston: “You Have To Expect” Trump Will Abandon His Positions; He Can’t Be Thought Of In “Conventional Terms.” CNN political executive editor Mark Preston told New Day host Chris Cuomo in May that he was not surprised the presumptive nominee “took a half-step back” on banning Muslim immigrants because he can't be thought of in “conventional terms,” but rather “in Donald Trump terms.”
       
    • The Daily Beast’s Jackie Kucinich: “Consistency Should Be An Argument Against Donald Trump,” But Trump “Isn’t A Normal Candidate.” Daily Beast Washington bureau chief Jackie Kucinich claimed in May that while “consistency should be an argument against” Trump “in a normal political system,” Trump is “not a normal candidate” and thus his policy reversals might not affect him.

    Media have also absurdly applauded Trump any time he has appeared to assume even the slightest veneer of conventional, tempered behavior:

    • Reading A Speech From A Teleprompter: Media figures praised Trump as “presidential” in early June for delivering one speech with the aid of a teleprompter. Fox anchor Megyn Kelly praised Trump for being “a little bit more controlled using the teleprompter, which is something we almost never see him do, staying on message.”
       
    • Delivering One Speech Devoid Of Racist Attacks: Following the same speech, media figures also praised Trump as “presidential” for refraining from launching racist attacks against the federal judge presiding over Trump University lawsuits, which Trump had done for multiple days prior. CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.”
       
    • Rebutting A Joke About His Penis Size: Fox doctor Keith Ablow praised Donald Trump for “show[ing] an incredible degree of psychological strength” in responding to a joke about the size of his hands by referencing the size of his penis.
       
    • Not Calling Then-Opponent Ted Cruz “Lyin’ Ted”: Following Trump’s April victory in the New York primary, Fox’s Megyn Kelly and ABC’s Tom Llamas said Trump was becoming “more presidential” and “trying out a more presidential style” because he did not call his opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), “Lyin’ Ted.” Trump returned to using the phrase the next day.

    ... Will They Change? 

    Now that political media have admitted their own shortcomings in the cautionary tale of Lauer, will they level the playing field between Clinton and Trump?

    Researcher Tyler Cherry contributed research to this post.

  • NBC News Mainstreams Conspiracy Theories About Hillary Clinton's Health

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    NBC News helped mainstream conservative media conspiracy theories about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s health by devoting an entire article to a "coughing fit" she had. The report -- while widely criticized by members of the media -- was pushed by right-wing media figures who for years have led the charge in spreading debunked conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health.

    On September 5, NBC News reported that Clinton suffered from a "coughing fit" on the campaign trail in an article titled, “Hillary Clinton Fights Back Coughing Attack,” writing:

    Hillary Clinton struggled to fight back a coughing fit while campaigning in Cleveland, Ohio, on Monday.

    [...]

    The former secretary of state has suffered from coughing fits at times throughout the Democratic presidential primary.

    However the frog in Clinton's throat on Monday was one of the most aggressive she's had during her 2016 run and left her almost unable to finish her remarks.

    Clinton’s coughing was also brought up on broadcast morning shows on September 6, including NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning, where CBS correspondent Nancy Cordes claimed Clinton’s coughing from seasonal allergies “got the better of her.”

    The NBC News report was embraced by right-wing media figures, who have spent years pushing conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health. The Drudge Report linked to the NBC News story on its banner, blaring the headline: “GETTING WORSE: CLINTON COUGH VIOLENTLY RETURNS,” adding Clinton’s “HEALTH STATUS UP IN THE AIR.” The story was also tweeted out by conservative media figures, with Fox Business host Lou Dobbs writing that “it’s time for answers” about Clinton’s health:

    The piece, however, was widely derided by mainstream media figures declaring “this ain’t news” and asking if NBC “seriously ran this story?”:

    As James Poniewozik, The New York Times’ TV critic, points out, the fact Clinton coughed is “news only [because] of a context of rumor, which NBC is indulging.” The NBC News report sent a dog-whistle to right-wing conspiracy theorists and gave legitimacy to their ridiculous claims that Clinton is suffering from serious health problems. For years, right-wing media have obsessed over Clinton’s bodily functions, including coughing fits and using the restroom.

    More dangerously, mainstream media have also hyped these conspiracies, even when their own outlets have debunked them. Even NBC Nightly News previously dispelled the “conspiracy theories” surrounding Clinton’s health.

    Media figures have recently criticized the right-wing figures promoting these myths. CNN’s Brian Stelter said it “does a disservice” to the audience “by peddling these conspiracy theories.” Michael Smerconish argued “it’s unhealthy for us as a society and electorate to all play armchair physician and go on and make some diagnoses,” especially since these claims have been debunked numerous times.

  • The most important two paragraphs Time has published in a long, long time

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    From James Poniewozik:

    As anyone following health reform knows, centrism is a political position too. And you see moderate bias - i.e., a preference for centrism - whenever a news outlet assumes that the truth must be "somewhere in the middle." You see it whenever an organization decides that "balance" requires equal weight for an opposing position, however specious: "Some, however, believe global warming is a myth." (Moderate bias would also require me to find a countervailing liberal position and pretend that it is equivalent to global-warming denial. Sorry.)

    Often, moderate bias is just the result of caution, but the effect is to bolster centrist political positions - not least by implying that they are not political positions at all but occupy a happy medium between the nutjobs. Meanwhile, conservatives see moderate bias as liberal, and liberals see it as conservative - letting journalists conclude that it's not bias at all.

  • Time TV critic Poniewozik suggests Dobbs "supping from the delicious chum bucket of hysteria" with birtherism

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    From James Poniewozik's Time article Threats with Teeth:

    To live every week like it's Shark Week, then, might be a metaphor for living in our media environment: to spend every week titillated by unlikely threats, getting whipped into frenzies, yawning over high-minded stuff like health-care policy and supping from the delicious chum bucket of hysteria. The President is a secret Kenyan who faked his birth certificate! Terrorists are coming to get you! And the world is going to end, six different ways! But first a word from our sponsor.

    Coincidentally, one of the best recent critiques of how media overkill works is airing during Shark Week. Summer is high season for media freak-outs. This year, we've had celebrity deaths, political sex scandals and a conspiracy theory that President Obama was born outside the U.S., revived by the likes of CNN's Lou Dobbs. Sharkbite Summer (Aug. 4) looks back eight years to when a few high-profile shark attacks sent the media into their own feeding frenzy. The summer of 2001, postrecount and pre-9/11, was notoriously slow on news. (Hence, it was also the season of the Chandra Levy media circus.) So when an 8-year-old boy was mauled by a bull shark in Florida, a hungry press attacked.