CNN's Jason Miller claims Trump's racist "breeding concept" tweet actually meant "breeding contempt"
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Conservatives use flagrantly false arguments to shift the debate in their favor
On Tuesday night, with Democratic candidate Conor Lamb nursing a narrow lead over Republican Rick Saccone in a special election for a deep-red congressional district that Donald Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016, CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish noted that the fact that the race was even close should set off alarm bells for the Republican Party. “I think it’s hard to spin,” Smerconish commented. “I really don’t know what the argument will be on behalf of Republicans and the White House come tomorrow.”
Moments later, Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign aide who now provides pro-Trump spin as a CNN commentator, filled the gap, claiming that “one of the things that Trump supporters will point out is the fact that Saccone was down by five points” before Trump spoke at a rally in the district over the weekend, “and then afterwards, this thing is dead even.” “It's because of President Trump that he even got this close,” he added.
“Perhaps it's because of President Trump that he started as far behind as he was,” Smerconish replied. “No, Trump boosted him. That logic doesn't work,” Miller said. Smerconish was left shaking his head in apparent disbelief that a pundit could try to argue the apparent loss of a congressional seat that shouldn’t have been on the table was somehow a sign of the president’s strength.
As it became more clear that Lamb had won the race, pro-Trump commentators like Fox’s Steve Doocy and Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Boris Epshteyn similarly argued that Trump had been a net benefit to Saccone. That became the official position of the GOP, with Republican National Committee spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany arguing on Fox that Trump was the “closer” in the race.
Conservative pundits and Republican politicians got on the same page in saying that Lamb, in the words of Doocy, “ran as a Republican and won,” an obviously tendentious argument that ignores both a host of progressive positions the Democrat staked out over the course of the campaign and the prior GOP messaging that Lamb was a liberal in the mold of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
This is a case study in what center-left commentators have termed the “hack gap.” Conservative elites are willing to adopt shamelessly false positions for political gain, while liberal elites are largely bound by objective reality and thus are willing to publicly acknowledge when, say, former President Barack Obama performs poorly during a debate. The resulting asymmetry skews the debate in ways that tend to favor conservatives. This disparity occurs in everything from baldly partisan punditry to the Republican Party’s extreme policy stands.
In the case of the Pennsylvania primary, press coverage that might otherwise be devoted to the catastrophic results for Republicans instead revolves in part on whether the conservative response is accurate. Some journalists point out the flaws in the right-wing argument, while others, like MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who claimed last night that Lamb “was a Democrat really in title only,” get spun. But either way, as a result of introducing nonsense into the discussion, conservatives are on a better footing than they would be otherwise.
The hack gap has been more obvious since Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican Party: The president’s constant stream of lies and fabrications and his racist, authoritarian, cruel, and bizarre behavior require sycophantic pundits and White House spokespeople alike to go to new lengths to excuse his every move. When Jeffrey Lord is using a CNN platform to call Trump the “Martin Luther King of health care” or describe former FBI Director James Comey as a “nut job,” it’s easy to see that something is deeply wrong.
But the phenomenon is not new. Indeed, for decades, modern conservative policy orthodoxy has been built on a series of disproven contentions -- like the validity of supply-side economics and the illegitimacy of climate change -- that are broadly rejected by center-right parties in the rest of the developed world. And thus we see, for example, the same pundit arguing in the early 1990s that President Bill Clinton’s tax increases would hurt the economy, then alternately crediting Ronald Reagan for the resulting strong economy and blaming Clinton when it stalled, demanding more tax cuts in the early 2000s, and spending 2007 and 2008 arguing that there was no housing bubble and claiming talk of a recession was fanciful. Because conservative pundits are punished only for apostasy, this series of inaccurate predictions did little damage to his stature.
Yesterday, Trump named that pundit, Larry Kudlow, his top economic adviser.
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The network is making a big show of its commitment to facts while paying Trump apologists to lie
“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.
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.
Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration and those who worked for his presidential campaign took to broadcast and cable news over the past year to spread lies and propaganda about voting, often defending Trump’s debunked claims about massive noncitizen voting and widespread voter fraud.
Before and after the election, Trump repeatedly hyped debunked theories that widespread voter fraud and massive noncitizen voting “rigged” the election against him and cost him the popular vote. Given the president’s affection for his staunchest cable news defenders, his “TV addiction,” and his desire for loyalty, it makes sense that those seeking to curry favor with Trump took to TV to hype lies about voting. According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast morning and nightly news as well as prime-time cable news, at least 11 different Trump loyalists made television appearances, often on Fox News, in which they misinformed viewers about voter fraud nearly 120 times:
Ben Carson, who now serves as Trump’s secretary for housing and urban development, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Carson made two statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely alleging that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.
Boris Epshteyn, who previously served as one of Trump’s press officers, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news three times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those three appearances, Epshteyn made four statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made two statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting. Additionally, Epshteyn made two statements falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud and one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.
Corey Lewandowski, who previously served as Trump’s campaign manager, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Lewandowski made 10 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made four statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.
J. Christian Adams, who now serves on Trump’s election integrity commission, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Adams made six statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting. He also made two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.
Jason Miller, who previously served as a senior communications adviser on Trump’s campaign, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news three times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those three appearances, Miller made seven statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.
Jeff Sessions, who now serves as Trump’s attorney general, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Sessions made three statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made two statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud.
Kellyanne Conway, who now serves as Trump’s senior counselor, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news 11 times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those 11 appearances, Conway made 13 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. She also made four statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.
Kris Kobach, who now serves as vice chair of Trump’s election integrity commission, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Kobach made 12 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made seven statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and one statement baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud. Additionally, Kobach made one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud and four statements falsely claiming that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.
Michael Cohen, who served as a surrogate during the presidential campaign, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news once from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. During his appearance, Cohen made six statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made three statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.
Mike Pence, who now serves as Trump’s vice president, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Pence made 12 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud (but also one statement correctly stating that widespread voter fraud does not exist). He also made two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.
Mike Pompeo, who now serves as Trump’s CIA director, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news once from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. During his appearance, Pompeo made one statement falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for evening cable news programs and broadcast morning news and evening newscasts from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. We included the following programs in the data: ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, NBC’s Today and NBC Nightly News, CNN’s The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News’ The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren*, On the Record with Brit Hume*, Tucker Carlson Tonight*, First 100 Days*, The Story*, The O’Reilly Factor*, The Kelly File*, and Hannity, and MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, For the Record with Greta*, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell. Due to the substantial reorganization of Fox News’ programming during the study period, programs that were either added or removed from the network during the study period are marked with an asterisk. During the study period, Greta Van Susteren moved to MSNBC and began hosting a program there; unlike with the network’s previous 6 p.m. programming, the transcripts for this program were included in the Nexis database, and thus were included.
For this study, Media Matters included only those segments where the stated topic of conversation was voting rights or issues related to voting, or where “substantial discussion” of these topics occurred. We defined “substantial discussion” as that where two or more speakers had at least one direct exchange on the topic. Host monologues were also included only when the speaker made two independent mentions of voting or voting rights within the same segment. We did not include statements made in news or video clips in edited news packages except those made by a network correspondent. If news packages aired more than once, Media Matters coded only the first unique appearance. Similarly, if a live event -- such as a town hall or public forum -- was held during regularly scheduled programming, these segments were also excluded because the participants were not network or media guests.
The resulting 561 segments were then coded for the mention of one or more of four general topics of conversation: logistical barriers to voting on the state level, the election, legal issues, and gerrymandering. Segments were also coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements each speaker made about six topics: widespread voter fraud, massive noncitizen voting, voter ID laws, voter registration inaccuracies, early voting, and gerrymandering. The statements coded for were:
There is widespread voter fraud (inaccurate).
Widespread voter fraud does not exist (accurate).
There is massive noncitizen voting (inaccurate).
Massive noncitizen voting does not exist (accurate).
Voter ID laws are useful to fight voter fraud (inaccurate).
Voter ID laws would do little combat voter fraud (accurate).
Voter ID laws do not affect voter turnout (inaccurate).
Voter ID laws disenfranchise voters, especially minority voters (accurate).
Voter registration inaccuracies lead to voter fraud (inaccurate).
Voter registration inaccuracies are different from voter fraud (accurate).
Early voting leaves elections more susceptible to voter fraud (inaccurate).
Early voting does not leave elections more susceptible to voter fraud (accurate).
Gerrymandering has not contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (inaccurate).
Gerrymandering has contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (accurate).
After The New York Times reported that Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the 2016 campaign in hopes of receiving damaging information on Hillary Clinton, right-wing media immediately defended Trump Jr., calling the report a “nothingburger,” and “a big yawn,” and suggesting it would have been “malpractice” for him not to do so.
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Conservative media figures lashed out at Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) after she was interrupted and chastised by her Republican male colleagues during her questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claiming she was interrupting Sessions and calling her “hysterical,” “a total fraud,” and rude. Women in mainstream media responded, pointing out the clear sexism in both the attacks on Harris and the double standard she was held to.
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Since President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, right-wing media have defended the decision, calling the former director a “political animal.” This comes as Trump is considering multiple political figures to serve as head of the FBI, a move experts have decried.
Republicans “abruptly” withdrew their health care bill, which signaled the first legislative defeat for President Donald Trump. After the bill's failure, media figures blamed Democrats, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), and legislators instead of Trump who adopted and pushed for the bill’s passage.
CNN’s newest commentator is Jason Miller, a top communications aide to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign who was originally tapped to be his White House communications director. The Miller hire appears to be an effort to appease the president, who has spent months trying to delegitimize the network.
The news broke less than 24 hours after CNN president Jeff Zucker decried Trump’s description of news outlets as the “enemy of the people” at a media conference. Zucker called that statement “dangerous, unprecedented, and shocking” and an effort to undermine “aspects of the American system.” He also said it was “shocking to watch how many members of the political establishment have not been willing to stand up to that statement.”
For months, Trump has been engaged in what he has described as a “running war with the media,” which he claims is “dishonest.” He has described major news outlets -- including CNN -- as “the enemy of the American people.”
CNN has been a particular target of the president’s vitriol. During a January 11 press conference, Trump attacked the network’s report that top U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian operatives may have compromising information about him. After CNN reporter Jim Acosta tried to ask Trump a question, he lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet, shouting, “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!”
Trump continued his attacks on the network during his February 16 press conference, mocking Acosta, suggesting that Zucker owes his job to Trump, and describing the network’s programming as “so much anger and hatred.” He has also repeatedly attacked CNN on his Twitter feed.
Zucker, who helped revitalize Trump’s relevance when he gave the now-president his prime-time NBC program The Apprentice, has repeatedly spoken out against Trump’s criticism. But now he has apparently rewarded Trump’s actions by putting one of his former top advisers on the payroll.
Miller served as the Trump campaign's senior communications adviser and spokesman for the president-elect, then was tapped for the role of White House communications director before withdrawing for family reasons. He joins paid Trump advocates Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany at the network.
It’s not the first time Zucker has provided a Trump aide who lost their position in the president’s orbit with a cushy commentator gig.
After Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski last year, Zucker quickly swooped in with a hefty contract. The deal was a farce: Lewandowski had a history of open hostility toward the press; he was likely prevented from criticizing Trump due to a non-disparagement agreement; he remained on Trump’s payroll for months after joining CNN; he continued to advise Trump on strategy and travel with the candidate; and he used the platform for egregious shilling on Trump’s behalf. Zucker continued to defend the hire until, in a final humiliation, Lewandowski quit after the election to pursue other options.
Miller doesn’t have Lewandowski’s history of vitriolic attacks on reporters, but CNN shouldn’t expect him to defend the network from Trump. In October, Wolf Blitzer asked Miller if he was comfortable with the way Trump lashed out at the press and threatened to sue journalists. Miller responded by blaming the “biased” media, claiming that “there are entire networks on TV that, every time you turn them on, it’s one big attack against Mr. Trump.”
Now when CNN gets attacked by the president, the network will be paying Miller to explain how it deserves the treatment.
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