Stephanie Ruhle | Media Matters for America

Stephanie Ruhle

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  • Trump's tariffs could hurt millions of Americans, but media focus instead on presidential drama

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 31, CBS News reported on retaliatory tariffs from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, targeting numerous products including American steel and aluminum, playing cards, motorcycles, and tobacco. European Commission president Jean-Paul Juncker said that Trump’s move “leaves us with no choice but to proceed … with the imposition of additional duties on a number of imports from the U.S.”

    News reports and experts say the tariffs will hurt Americans in a number of ways. Though the steel and aluminum industries stand to benefit, “almost every US industry” that uses these metals will be faced with higher manufacturing costs, which “will likely get passed on to consumers.” These higher costs could “kill hundreds of thousands of jobs” as companies scramble to offset artificially high prices. Retaliatory tariffs levied by other nations are threatening a wide range of businesses, from agriculture to commercial production. According to The New York Times, even Trump’s own Council of Economic Advisers concluded that the tariffs would hamper economic growth.  

    But media coverage of U.S. allies’ responses to Trump’s economic attack centered on  the sensationalism and drama of the moment. Though CNN interviewed or cited economists in a few segments on the tariffs’ effects for American workers and business, the majority of the punditry  focused on the shock value of levying tariffs against U.S. allies. CNN also interviewed Stephen Moore, a Trump campaign economic advisor whom CNN hired as its in-house defender of the president who dodged policy questions to muddy the facts and obsequiously push the Trump agenda (which is how interviews with former or current Trump officials usually go); the network did not interview any workers who could potentially be hurt by the retaliatory tariffs.

    Fox News, meanwhile, played up the personal drama Trump incited with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Fox personalities said that “the public spat between these world leaders [Trump and Trudeau] is something to watch,” argued that Trudeau should “maybe … realize it’s not personal,” and generally attacked Trudeau for, among other things, “trying to out-alpha President Trump.” Lou Dobbs hailed Trump’s defeat of our allies’ “globalist conspiracy,” and on Dobbs’ show, sworn Nazi sympathizer Sebastian Gorka denounced Canada’s response to Trump because Canada “started it.”  When Fox figures tried to analyze the tariffs, they usually didn’t get beyond spouting worn-out taglines such as the electorate wanted the “disrupter-in-chief” to provide “a complete change in direction.” Jesse Watters got creative, however, when he positively compared Trump’s tariffs to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, a 1930 tariff commonly understood to have “exacerbated the Great Depression.” (Fox & Friends did feature one dairy farmer who, predictably, supported Trump’s agenda.)

    Much of the coverage on MSNBC also focused on the spectacle and/or provided a superficial analysis of Trump’s actions. But anchors Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi, along with correspondent Vaughn Hillyard, did do substantial reporting on how the tariffs might impact American laborers, coverage which often included the workers themselves, during their combined three hours of hosting time., Velshi and Ruhle dedicated segments to explaining the far-reaching nature of the tariffs from U.S. allies (as well as an earlier round of tariffs from China) and how they might affect laborers and consumers alike.

    On-site reporting focused on affected farmers, and several reports focused even further on specific industries -- pork products, potatoes, and bourbon among them -- targeted by the tariffs.

    Ruhle, Velshi, and Hillyard notwithstanding, a common facet of tariff coverage was, as Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth said, the “unpredictability” of the situation, because it “makes for good TV.” With Friday’s White House announcement of another $50 billion in tariffs against Chinese products, media need to move beyond the drama and focus on the substance and the potential devastation to some Americans.

  • MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt dismisses the scandal over Scott Pruitt's condo rental

    Hewitt, whose son was hired by Pruitt as a press secretary, has been a staunch defender of the EPA chief

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (4/4): Scott Pruitt hired Hugh Hewitt's son, James Hewitt, as a press secretary at the EPA by exploiting a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act -- a move that ethics experts have criticized, according to The Washington Post. Pruitt used this same loophole to make other hires, and to give raises to two aides against the wishes of the White House. Hewitt's son previously worked at Dezenhall Resources Ltd., a public relations firm that has run campaigns attacking environmental groups including Greenpeace. Hugh Hewitt mounted another defense of Pruitt on his radio show on April 4, dismissing the scandals surrounding the EPA chief as "nonsense."

    Original article below.

    Over the past few days, MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt has defended EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rental of a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, falsely claiming that Pruitt paid market rate for the condo and dismissing ethical concerns many experts have raised about the arrangement. Hewitt’s defense of the rental arrangement is in line with his track record of defending Pruitt from criticism.

    Hewitt defended Pruitt’s ethically dubious $50-a-night lease

    On March 30, ABC News reported that Pruitt had “worked directly with a top energy lobbyist, and without a real estate broker, to set up a $50-a-night rental room in a prime Capitol Hill building co-owned by the lobbyist’s wife during his first six months in Washington.” Under the arrangement, Pruitt paid to rent out one bedroom only on the nights he spent at the condo, even though no other renters stayed in the unit when he was out of town.

    On April 1, Hewitt took to Twitter to defend Pruitt’s leasing setup as “quite common” and dismiss it as a “non-story.”

    Hewitt also claimed that the condo was rented to Pruitt at market rate during a Twitter argument with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle and Republican political consultant Matthew Dowd:

    On April 2, Hewitt appeared on MSNBC Live to claim that Pruitt’s condo lease was appropriate and that criticism of the arrangement was politically motivated: “It is not in any way, shape, or form a gift. It’s much ado about nothing. I think this is really about policy, Stephanie, as we talked about on Twitter, and I think it’s about the [Federal Vacancies Reform Act]. Specifically, people on the left are upset with Scott Pruitt over the Clean Power Plan, which he repealed; the Waters of the United States [WOTUS], which he repealed; the [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards today, which he put up for repeal. He’s executing Donald Trump’s policy on WOTUS and on regulatory rollback, and they want him out.”

    Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental was well below market rate for similar units

    Pruitt paid $6,100 over the duration of his six-month stay in the Capitol Hill condo, roughly $1,000 a month. The rate was well below what Pruitt paid for similar housing after he left the condo, as The Washington Post reported:

    After leaving the Capitol Hill condo co-owned by Vicki Hart in July, Pruitt moved to a one-bedroom apartment in an upscale complex in the U Street neighborhood, according to an official with knowledge of the move. One-bedroom units in the building run about $3,000 to $3,500 monthly.

    Several months later, he moved again, signing another lease in a new luxury apartment complex back on Capitol Hill. One-bedroom apartments in the building, which is owned by a large development company, start at about $3,100 per month and go to nearly $4,500.

    ABC News also revealed that Pruitt’s daughter stayed in the second bedroom in the condo for the duration of her White House internship from May to August, during which time Pruitt should have been paying a two-bedroom rate.

    As The Associated Press reported, “Current rental listings for two-bedroom apartments in the [Capitol Hill] neighborhood show they typically go for far more than what Pruitt paid. A two bedroom townhome on the same block as the one leased by Pruitt was advertised for rent on Monday at $3,750 a month. Another two-bedroom unit on the next block was advertised as available for $4,740 a month.”

    Numerous ethics experts have questioned Pruitt’s condo lease

    Despite Hewitt’s assertion that Pruitt’s leasing arrangement was aboveboard, a number of ethics experts expressed concern over Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental.

    Bryson Morgan, the former investigative counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Congressional Ethics, said of Pruitt’s lease, “I think it certainly creates a perception problem, especially if Mr. Hart is seeking to influence the agency. That’s why there is a gift rule.”

    After the EPA issued a retroactive ethics approval for Pruitt’s rental arrangement on Friday, Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the ruling “highly unusual” and questioned the logic of the agency's opinion, ABC reported.

    On the March 31 episode of CNN’s New Day Saturday, Water Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said the lease was a gift and the EPA’s ethics ruling left “unanswered questions,” and he debunked many of the EPA’s explanations:

    CHRISTI PAUL (ANCHOR): Now, again, an EPA official told CNN the ethics counsel reviewed this living arrangement, that the ethics issue was not one because he paid rent, they say, and that the landlord was considered a friend and by law, quote, "does not ban federal employees from receiving a gift from a friend." Do you give any credence to those conclusions?

    WALTER SHAUB (CNN CONTRIBUTOR): No, that's silly. And in fact, the EPA released a memo yesterday that was dated yesterday. Pruitt did not go to the EPA ethics office and get advice in advance as to whether this was appropriate. This story broke, and then the EPA tried to come up with a post hoc rationalization, and the rationalization is preposterous.

    They don't actually rely on the alleged friendship, and they really can't because the lobbyist told the press yesterday that they're merely casual friends. That would not meet the standard for an exception of the gift rule based on very close personal relationships where you get a gift under circumstances that it's absolutely clear that the gift was solely motivated by the relationship.

    But the justification they tried to offer which just has about everybody in Washington who's ever looked for an apartment chuckling is the idea that it's perfectly normal in this town to get a prime location -- and this house really is that, it’s right next to the House/Senate office building on Capitol Hill, for $50 a night -- and the owner will hold the house open for you for the -- any night that you don't use it. He won't rent it to anybody else, but you only have to pay for the nights that you actually stay there at well below market rate. There's no doubt that this is a gift and that this is below market rate, and so, the EPA's justification doesn't wash.

    On April 2, The New York Times reported that the EPA signed off on a pipeline project linked to the lobbyist whose wife owned the condo, raising questions about whether there was a connection between the agency’s action and the condo rental. From the Times article:

    Government ethics experts said that the correlation between the E.P.A.’s action and Mr. Pruitt’s lease arrangement — he was renting from the wife of the head of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen — illustrates why such ties to industry players can generate questions for public officials: Even if no specific favors were asked for or granted, it can create an appearance of a conflict.

    “Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the E.P.A. decision,” said Don Fox, who served as general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics during parts of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

    Hewitt has a history of defending the EPA administrator

    Hewitt’s defense of Pruitt's rental arrangement is just the latest instance of the radio host and MSNBC personality dismissing the EPA administrator’s scandals (of which there are many).   

    For example, after news broke last year about Pruitt spending $58,000 on charter and military flights, Hewitt defended that expense on the September 29 episode of MTP Daily:

    HUGH HEWITT: I want to push back on Pruitt, and -- I don’t know Zinke yet -- but I've studied everything about Pruitt because I'm interested in the EPA and my son works there.

    Those four trips, all preapproved by the [EPA's Office of General Counsel]. He was going to the bottom of Oklahoma in one of them to meet with stakeholders that President Obama never cared about: small farmers, small plot holders, wetland people. It was the Waters of the United States Rule rollback. By all means, throw some attention on that.

    Earlier that day, Hewitt also defended Pruitt on his radio show, arguing that efforts to condemn Pruitt for his travel are “a dry hole.”

    And in March of this year, after additional stories broke about Pruitt’s expensive travel habits, Hewitt attributed criticism of Pruitt’s travel to an “anti-Trump” bias in the media.

    Additionally, when Pruitt received some of his most negative press coverage of 2017, after he denied the scientific consensus on human-made climate change on CNBC, Hewitt provided cover for Pruitt by having him on his radio show and declaring, "I know you are not a climate denier."

  • This is how TV news ought to be covering the death of net neutrality

    Don’t give in to the spin, stick to the facts, and provide viewers with some sense of the stakes

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: As expected, the commissioners of the FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to rescind the net neutrality protections instituted by the agency in February 2015. Internet advocacy groups responded to the vote by announcing legal challenges.

    Broadcast and cable news programs have been largely silent on the topic of net neutrality in the weeks since the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) indicated its intention to rescind Obama-era consumer protections codifying a free and open internet. With the FCC set to begin deconstructing those regulations today, news coverage must provide viewers with enough context to make clear the stakes of this dramatic policy shift.

    The FCC’s commissioners, a majority of whom are Republican appointees, are expected to vote “along party lines to scrap Obama-era net neutrality rules” during its December 14 meeting, marking “a huge victory for the big internet service providers” who have sought to dismantle the consumer protections governing how customers and content-providers interact online. According to a December 12 report from Reuters, three major net neutrality advocates -- Public Knowledge, Common Cause, and Free Press -- have given up attempting to convince Republican-appointed FCC commissioners to reconsider their decision and, with little reason to expect a legislative solution from an unproductive Republican majority in Congress, are “preparing to turn to litigation as a last resort.” Another major net neutrality advocacy group, the Internet Association -- which represents technology giants and content providers like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft -- is also weighing possible legal challenges to the FCC’s ruling, according to the report.

    The FCC’s Trump-appointed chairman, Ajit Pai, spent the days leading up to the December 14 vote doing a tour of friendly conservative media outlets to promote his anti-neutrality agenda without facing any pushback from consumer advocates and regulatory experts. Chairman Pai argued that his move to install a so-called “light touch” regulatory framework is just a return to the way the internet worked pre-2015, never mentioning that net neutrality was instituted that year in response to worries that the free and open internet Americans had come to rely on might soon disappear. (Pai’s right-wing media blitz neglected to mention his previous work on behalf of Verizon, one of the telecommunications conglomerates pushing to unwind net neutrality.)

    Broadcast and cable news programs, which Media Matters demonstrated have been conspicuously absent from net neutrality discussions, need to emphasize for their audience what is at stake in the ongoing net neutrality fight. Despite the overall inadequate coverage, there have been several examples over the past month demonstrating how news programs can inform viewers, advance the discussion, and give time to expert perspectives.

    On the December 13 edition of MSNBC Live, host Stephanie Ruhle brought on guest Jeff Jarvis who said that  rescinding net neutrality would “enable the oligopoly of cable and telephone” to control content on the internet while showcasing Pai's inconsistent approach to regulating the service providers he is aligned with and content producers who might not share his political perspective. Two weeks earlier, during the November 23 edition of MSNBC Live, host Ali Velshi and tech entrepreneur Michael Fertik engaged in a similarly fruitful discussion that provided viewers with specific examples of how telecommunications companies might take advantage of consumers in a world without mandatory net neutrality:

    During the November 26 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter and New York Times reporter David Gelles also delved into the net neutrality debate, and again stressed the ideological inconsistency of the Trump administration’s position. Gelles pointed out that Trump’s threat to block a proposed media merger by citing concerns about competition and consumer choice was directly at odds with his FCC chairman’s decision to entrust the same media titans as caretakers of the free and open internet:

    Consumer advocates have long been concerned that an internet unprotected by net neutrality could devolve into a maze of predatory and expensive consumer traps similar to what we see in countries without net neutrality, which do not provide consumers with the same protections Americans benefit from today. The Republican-led FCC has already demonstrated that it plans to use its time during the Trump era empowering corporate interests, fighting for right-wing pet priorities, and ignoring American consumers. Mainstream news outlets need to start making that story clear.