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Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has apparently undergone a rather dramatic change in terms of how she views President-elect Donald Trump -- specifically, whether she thinks it’s OK for journalists to label him a liar when he constantly lies.
Stressing the “huge challenge” that looms for the press to cover Trump “fairly” in coming years, Marcus joined forces with Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker, who last week insisted it’s out of bounds for his reporters to call a Trump a liar. (They run the risk of not looking "objective," Baker fretted.)
Weighing in with her Sunday Post column, Marcus agreed that it’s just not fair to label Trump a liar. “The media shouldn’t hesitate to label an assertion false, but it should be cautious about imputing motive,” wrote Marcus, who doesn’t like the “inflammatory baggage” that comes with dubbing the president-elect a liar.
“The past few weeks have offered Americans a chilling glimpse of three faces of Donald Trump: the stonewaller, the shape-shifter and the liar,” Marcus wrote on May 18. She conceded that it was a “strong charge,” but insisted it was “warranted.”
How does a media transformation like that take place, considering the avalanche of lies Trump told over the course of the campaign and since his election win? How do you go from stating unequivocally that Trump’s a liar, to advocating that calling him that same thing today is somehow out of bounds and means you’re not treating him “fairly”?
Is it because Trump will soon be president and some journalists are nervous about offending him -- nervous about appearing to be too tough on him and not wanting to be the targets of further bullying? Perhaps journalists are simply intimidated by Trump, whose political fortunes this year can be partially attributed to his gleefully mean-spirited attacks on the media.
Over and over we’re seeing this discouraging and potentially dangerous pattern unfold: At a time when Trump and his team are ratcheting up their attempts to discredit the media, and as they stand poised to choke off all meaningful access for journalists, too many news organizations are responding with timidity and accommodation. They seem to have learned nothing from the campaign, when Trump banned certain news outlets at will while his staff herded reporters into restricted press pens at rallies.
“Winter is coming,” is how New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has framed the looming press threats under Trump: “For a free press as a check on power this is the darkest time in American history since World War I, when there was massive censorship and suppression of dissent.”
As is the case with so much of the press’s relationship with Trump, there continues to be a runaway normalization effort at play. Rather than Trump’s relentless assault on the press sparking a collective resistance, more and more it seems to have sparked a weird, collective acceptance.
Just look at the media event that took place last Friday: Trump met in private with editors from Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Vogue. He met them at the headquarters of the magazines’ parent company, Conde Nast. Trump’s confab was off the record, which is exactly what journalists should not be doing right now -- cutting side deals with Trump for sit-downs in exchange for secrecy. Instead, media outlets should be taking collective action to push back against Trump’s naked refusal to be held accountable, as well as Trump’s 19-month war on the press, not ushering him in for closed-door meetings.
A president-elect who has refused for nearly 170 days to hold a press conference and who has essentially closed off all meaningful access to political reporters -- while constantly publicly denigrating journalists -- doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with off-the-record bull sessions.
For instance, at their meeting the Conde Nast editors reportedly asked Trump about his plans for “health care, climate change, relations with Russia, women’s issues and abortion rights,” which are exactly the types of topics he should be asked about on the record. Because right now it’s virtually impossible to understand his specific policy positions since Trump refuses to articulate them in detail.
Besides, remember what happened the last time the president-elect had an off-the-record meeting with news executives?
For more than twenty minutes, Trump railed about “outrageous” and “dishonest” coverage. When he was asked about the sort of “fake news” that now clogs social media, Trump replied that it was the networks that were guilty of spreading fake news. The “worst,” he said, were CNN (“liars!”) and NBC.
Another participant at the meeting said that Trump’s behavior was “totally inappropriate” and “fucking outrageous.”
Meanwhile, what also occurred on Friday, after Trump met off-the-record with Conde Nast editors? He issued this stunning threat:
I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2017
So now we can add threats of congressional investigation to the long list of bullying tactics President-elect Trump has unveiled against journalists since Election Day.
Winter is coming, indeed.
Conservative media continued to use the phrase “fake news” incorrectly in an attempt to delegitimize news that does not fit their agenda -- in this case reports about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In doing so, conservatives are fueling President-elect Donald Trump’s effort to stymie credible news as well as trying to undermine the real concerns about the spread of actual false information packaged as legitimate news.
Right-wing media sought to dismiss news that the CIA concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to actively help Trump by claiming that the report is merely “fake news.” On the December 12 edition of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh asserted, “This whole business of Russia hacking our election is fake news with the imprimatur of intelligence agencies and the CIA, and it's brought to us by the same newspapers that took out, tried to take out Richard Nixon.” Fox News host Sean Hannity also drew the same conclusion, saying on his radio show that “this is another liberal fake news story that they’re all falling for, and it’s politically motivated.” Right-wing outlets Breitbart and InfoWars ran headlines dismissing the reports as “fake news.”
Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer and Trump adviser and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich have also tried to hijack the term “fake news,” claiming that reports from legitimate news outlets such as The New York Times were “fake news” in an attempt to delegitimize pieces that did not fit their agenda.
While there is no standard definition for fake news, a variety of outlets and experts have defined these types of pieces as entirely fabricated stories seeking to imitate the style of legitimate news outlets to fool readers. This definition certainly does not apply to the several reports highlighting the CIA’s findings that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump, which was reported in The Washington Post and did not seek to intentionally mislead readers.
As The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus wrote, “there is a difference between inevitably flawed and intentionally false. To deliberately blur this distinction is to seek to undermine the central role of media in a free society.” This pattern from conservatives and right-wing media follows Trump’s use of “demagogic techniques,” as former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey argued on CNN’s Reliable Sources, to “inoculate” himself from thorough, investigative reporting. It is also an attempt by purveyors of fake news such as InfoWars to try and whitewash the meaning of “fake news” and downplay the dangers that come from spreading it.
Trump has waged a long term war on the press; it appears that this is just another attempt from his allies in conservative media to delegitimize news they don’t like.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has an extensive history of attacking the media, and his campaign and supporters have joined in the fight throughout the election. The nominee, his surrogates, and his supporters have called media outlets and reporters across the spectrum “dishonest,” “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time,” and until recently, the campaign had a media blacklist of outlets that weren’t allowed into campaign events.
Media sharply criticized Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign and his supporters for pushing the conspiracy theory that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is secretly sick and unfit to be president, while conservative media have embraced and promoted the myth.
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Over the course of the 2016 presidential primary, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has laid forth a series of problematic policy proposals and statements -- ranging from his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States to his suggestion that the United States default on debt -- that media have warned to be “dangerous,” “fact-free,” “unconstitutional,” “contradictory,” “racist,” and “xenophobic.” Media Matters compiled an extensive list of Trump’s widely panned policy plans thus far along with the debunks and criticism from media figures, experts and fact-checkers that go along with them.
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Amid widespread condemnation of Donald Trump from his fellow Republican presidential candidates following his attack on Sen. John McCain's military service, media are highlighting Republicans' collective failure to denounce Trump's past bigotry and xenophobia.
Media outlets have argued that Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) mirrors RFRAs passed in other states as well as the federal RFRA signed into law in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton. In fact, Indiana's RFRA is broader than other versions of the law, and experts say it could allow private businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers on the basis of religion.
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.
After spending much of the last two weeks criticizing Hillary Clinton for supposed "gaffes" about her wealth and claiming she's increasingly out of touch with voters thanks to the combined earnings of herself and her husband, Beltway pundits are confronted with a new poll that shows that despite days worth of media attacks on Clinton's money comments, a clear majority think the former secretary of state relates to "average Americans" and the problems they face.
The findings from an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey forcefully debunk the punditry's conventional wisdom that by being "rusty" while discussing her wealth during her recent book tour, Clinton inflicted potentially deep damage to her possible presidential run by being so "out of touch."
The recent wealth coverage continued the Beltway press' long tradition of parsing portions of Clinton comments taken from hours worth of long-form interviews and spinning then in the most unappealing way, and by claiming Clinton's word choice and "tone" is all wrong. (CNN even altered a Hillary quote about money last week to make it more incriminating and newsworthy.)
To date though, voters don't seem to mind when Hillary Clinton talks about money.
Nonetheless as the Washington Post's Dan Balz noted, Clinton's "comments about being "dead broke" upon leaving the White House and not being among the "truly well off" today have triggered an avalanche of coverage raising questions about whether she has lost touch with the lives of ordinary Americans."
Just yesterday, Balz's colleague Ruth Marcus detailed what she called "Hillary Clinton's money woes," and warned the former first lady that the problem might get "worse" because she risks being viewed by voters as "greedy," "defensive," "whiny," and "out of touch."
How was Marcus so sure that voters would deeply resent the Clintons' wealth if Hillary ran for president? Or specifically, that they'd resent how she talked about her wealth. Did Marcus cite polling? Did she interview voters? No, she just knew. Or she thought she knew.
According to the new NBC/WSJ poll, none of Marcus' characterizations are accurate.
And that's why the red flag of the wealth coverage was always the question of whether voters were as deeply offended by Clinton's wealth as the Beltway press is. (MSNBC's Chuck Todd recently dismissed the Clintons' earnings from giving speeches by insisting, "It's not like they have acquired their wealth from hard work.")
Washington Post columnist George Will dedicated his most recent column to bashing citizens uncomfortable with forced participation in Christian prayer before they can petition town officials, characterizing both the Jewish and atheist plaintiff in the Supreme Court's recent decision on the constitutionality of state-sponsored prayer as "flimsy people" with "thin skins."
The suit, Town of Greece v. Galloway, was filed by two residents of Greece -- a small town in upstate New York -- who objected to their town officials' decade-long practice of inviting almost exclusively Christian clergy to deliver at times extremely sectarian prayers before the start of town meetings. On May 6, the Supreme Court's conservative justices held that the Christian prayer regularly invoked at town meetings before residents could engage their local officials in town business did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In the majority's view, the prayers were appropriate because "although most of the prayer givers were Christian, this fact reflected only the predominantly Christian identity of the town's congregations." In their dissent, the liberal justices noted that although "legislative prayers" have been held to be a ceremonial exception to the First Amendment's prohibition on the establishment of religion, the Town of Greece crossed the constitutional line by embedding Christian prayers as the bar citizens must cross before they can engage their representatives.
In his Washington Post column, Will celebrated the majority's reinterpretation of what constitutes permissible "legislative prayers." He also took the opportunity to gratuitously slam the "prickly plaintiffs" for bringing the case at all, falsely pretending the concerns of religious minorities are the same as those of "militantly aggravated secularists."
From Will's May 7 column (emphasis added):
Three decades have passed since the court last ruled on the matter of prayers during government meetings. In 1983, the court held:
"The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country. From colonial times through the founding of the Republic and ever since, the practice of legislative prayer has coexisted with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom."
Since then, however, many Americans have become more irritable and litigious and less neighborly. Also, there are many more nonbelievers. And the court has made establishment-clause jurisprudence more labyrinthine with nuances such as the "endorsement test": What government behavior touching religion would a reasonable observer see as endorsing -- or disapproving -- a particular religion or religiosity generally?
The majority held that ceremonial prayer -- an encouragement to gravity and sobriety -- is not harmful to the plaintiffs, who felt somehow coerced when present at public prayers, and who said such prayers are necessarily divisive. The court should have told them: If you feel coerced, you are flimsy people, and it is a choice -- an unattractive one -- to feel divided from your neighbors by their affection for brief and mild occasional expressions of religiosity.
Taking offense has become America's national pastime; being theatrically offended supposedly signifies the exquisitely refined moral delicacy of people who feel entitled to pass through life without encountering ideas or practices that annoy them. As the number of nonbelievers grows -- about 20 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, as are one-third of adults under the age of 30 -- so does the itch to litigate believers into submission to secular sensibilities.
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus took Mary Cheney to task for challenging her sister Liz's opposition to marriage equality, arguing that - even though it's wrong to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry - Mary Cheney and her wife Heather Poe should have stayed silent instead of "[g]oing nuclear on Facebook."
In her November 20 column, Marcus echoed right-wing pundits who are casting Mary Cheney as the villain in the family feud, accusing Mary of unfairly jeopardizing Liz's chances of being elected to the U.S. Senate by deigning to say how she feels about having a sister who opposes her right to marry:
In the matter of the Cheney Family Feud: Something in me balks at leaping on the let's-all-bash-Liz bandwagon.
Sure, it would be fun. For one thing, she's wrong about same-sex marriage. As her sister, Mary, now famously posted on Facebook after her big sis re-proclaimed her opposition on "Fox News Sunday": "Liz -- this isn't just an issue on which we disagree -- you're just wrong -- and on the wrong side of history."
Then there is the unfortunate matter of waging this family war in public. It's easy to imagine how infuriating it felt for Mary and her wife, Heather Poe, to be sitting at home watching Liz spout off on Fox News. The urge to fight back obviously was irresistible.
But taking matters further public? Going nuclear on Facebook? Heather's post painted her sister-in-law as a political carpetbagger who shifted positions along with states:
"I can't help but wonder how Liz would feel if, as she moved from state to state, she discovered that her family was protected in one but not the other," Heather wrote in a post Mary shared.
Look, I would have been tempted to post, too. I would have been tempted to tweet. Then I would have thought better of it -- or, more likely, my spouse would have told me to step away from the keyboard. That's what Heather should have done for Mary. Instead, Mary reposted Heather's incendiary message.
Like a number of right-wing pundits before her, Marcus argues Mary is to blame for the public Cheney family feud. Liz, who chose to run for public office and make her anti-equality position known, apparently bears no responsibility for putting her gay sister and her family in the spotlight.
The reality is that while gay and lesbian couples are able to marry in 15 states and the District of Columbia, they're second-class citizens in the rest of the country. Pointing out that Liz's position relegates millions of gays and lesbians to second-class status isn't "incendiary" - it's basic truth-telling.
To be fair, Marcus criticizes Liz Cheney's claim that she has always been "compassionate towards" Mary and her family, but she concludes by suggesting that Mary's family may have read too much into Liz's previous warmth. Perhaps, Marcus offered, Liz Cheney was just "being polite":
And [Heather Poe posted], "when Mary and I got married in 2012 -- she [Liz] didn't hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us. To have her now say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive to say the least." But maybe Liz was merely being polite at the time. To say she's happy for the married couple is not the same as saying she embraces their marriage.
It's easy for Marcus - who's never had her right to marry put up to a referendum or become a political wedge issue - to call for restraint. But Mary and Liz aren't having a minor political disagreement. Liz's opposition to marriage equality has a direct impact on the livelihood and well-being of her gay sister. For gay and lesbian couples - whose freedom to marry isn't uniformly enjoyed and whose legal protections have come only after years of hard-fought struggle - keeping quiet just isn't that simple.