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In a time of historic protests and activism against bigoted and hateful policies of President Donald Trump and his administration, news outlets need to scrap the so-called “fair and balanced” panels of pundits and politicians speculating and judging protests from a studio.
Since day one of the Trump administration, there have been organized efforts around the country to protest the president’s policies. These include the Women’s March On Washington in January which mobilized an estimated 3.6 to 4.6 million protestors around the world, demonstrations at airports across the U.S. a week later to protest banning and detaining Muslim travelers, the International Women’s Day Strike, the upcoming Tax Day March in April to pressure Trump to release his full tax returns, the People’s Climate March in the same month, and the Immigration March in May. Journalists can no longer ignore the activists, organizers and protestors who are taking to the streets and to town halls across the country to demand accountability and change.
Media have dismissed the protests as spectacles, alleged that they are being staged, or falsely claimed that the protesters are paid to show up. Activists have been central to the evolution of American democracy and have fought for policies that are more inclusive and that better their communities.
News outlets need to let activists tell their stories.
According to The Washington Post, President Donald Trump has given Fox News more than $5 million in free social media advertising through his positive tweets. But Trump’s $5 million gift to Fox pales in comparison to the network’s promotion of Trump during the 2016 campaign.
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump reported that Donald Trump has given Fox News more than $5 million in free social media advertising since he announced his candidacy, based on an established valuation by Captiv8, an analytics and social media marketing platform. According to Captiv8’s monetary valuation, one of Trump’s tweets is worth about $60,000, so when he promotes a show on Fox it is “essentially, a gift worth $60,000.” The company also estimated that Trump’s 52 tweets about the “failing @nytimes” could be seen as “the equivalent of $3.1 million in bad publicity.” From The Washington Post:
In other words, that tweet from Trump promoting Pirro’s show was more than a favor to Pirro and her employer, Fox News. It was, essentially, a gift worth $60,000.
With these metrics in mind, we went back through Trump’s social-media posts since he announced his candidacy to see how often he actively encouraged people to watch or buy particular programs or products. Although the list of those posts that appears at the bottom of this article is probably incomplete, it gives a sense of the value that Trump has provided to news networks.
By our estimates, Trump has provided Fox and its affiliated networks (Fox News, Fox Business) with more than $5 million in free advertising
Although no social-media company connects brands to celebrities to have the celebrities disparage them, Subramanian figured that the hit to a company’s value from a negative post would be damaging, perhaps to the extent that a positive tweet or Facebook post was helpful. In other words, Trump’s 52 tweets about the “failing @nytimes” could be thought of as the equivalent of $3.1 million in bad publicity.
Of course, Trump’s relationship with the media is a two-way street. The New York Times reported in March 2016 that Trump had already earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention on television, in print, and online, based on an analysis by mediaQuant, a media coverage tracking firm. Media Matters calculated that, for its part, Fox News gave Trump nearly $30 million in free airtime from May 2015 through December 2015. Another Media Matters analysis found that Fox News host and Trump sycophant Sean Hannity gave Trump more than $31 million in free advertising in the form of fawning interviews with the candidate between June 2015 and August 2016.
The relationship between Trump and the network goes back to before the 2012 election when the network helped promote Trump's political ambitions.Trump has repeatedly praised Fox News, admitted that he may not have been elected president without the network, and appears to get both his news and talking points from the network. For its part, Fox has also repeated Trump’s lines to bolster his spin.
The Washington Post’s analysis shows that Trump’s tweets are not only a way for him to circumvent the press, they also provide him the opportunity to help favorable news networks like Fox with tweets while simultaneously lashing out at news outlets that have been more critical of his presidency.
Trump’s Misleading Carrier Deal Was A Dominant Narrative During 2016 Coverage Of The Job Market
Media Matters research for the fourth quarter of the year found that broadcast evening news fixated on then President-elect Donald Trump’s misleading announcement that he was responsible for saving hundreds of jobs at an American manufacturer while largely ignoring the roughly 2.1 million jobs gained by the U.S. economy in 2016.
Television news fawned over Trump’s late-November participation in negotiations between state authorities and Indiana-based appliance manufacturer Carrier in which the company decided to move only half of its jobs to Mexico in exchange for tax subsidies. The same outlets continued to fall head over heels for Trump when he misleadingly declared on December 6 that he had brokered a deal with Japanese technology giant SoftBank to create “50,000 new jobs” in the United States. Some journalists were quick to point out that the media may be getting “bamboozled by these announcements,” and the Carrier deal was blasted as nothing more than “crony capitalism” -- a concept that even Sarah Palin understood.
New research from Media Matters revealed that overall coverage of the economy during the fourth quarter of the year spiked after Election Day, in large part driven not by consistently positive economic indicators or discussions of the future of health care reform, but by Trump’s self-serving boasts about his alleged role as a job creator. Of the 275 qualifying economic news segments aired by cable and broadcast programs from October through December, 56 featured a significant discussion of Trump’s supposed deal making with Carrier and Softbank. The media obsession with Trump’s Carrier and Softbank announcements accounted for an absurd 47 percent of evening news segments on the economy for the final 32 days of 2016.
Television news obsessed over Trump’s claims of saving 700 jobs at one plant and practically ignored the roughly 2.1 million jobs that had been created in 2016 as part the longest stretch of job growth on record. Media Matters identified 119 segments on the economy -- some discussing more than one issue -- from November 30 through December 31; of those, 56 discussed deals supposedly brokered by Trump to save or create jobs via Carrier and Softbank. Broadcast and cable evening news coverage of these deals eclipsed all other economic reporting during this time frame: 41 segments discussed tax policy, 30 segments discussed all other news surrounding economic growth or job creation, 26 segments focused on health care policy, 18 segments explored minimum wage policies, and 16 segments discussed economic inequality.
Media all but ignored the big picture by staying so focused on Trump’s pronouncements, falling prey to what ThinkProgress editor-in-chief Judd Legum described as Trump’s “formula for manipulating the public.” News outlets have repeatedly learned the hard way not to trust Trump’s proclamations and “nonsense” supply-side economic proposals. Yet television news still gives Trump an exhaustive amount of attention -- the same type of attention that research found played a role in Trump’s political rise. Now, it could influence public perception of his presidency.
Representation Of Economists Remained High In Fourth Quarter As Surprising Election Result Forced Outlets To Scramble For Explanations
The final quarter of 2016 saw an increase in cable and broadcast news coverage of the economy from the prior three-month period. Yet the proportion of economic coverage that focused on economic inequality decreased sharply as attacks on progressive economic policies rose. Fox News led the charge in attacking progressive policies and health care reform throughout the fourth quarter of the year, while the leading defender of progressive initiatives, MSNBC, aired most of its economic coverage after Election Day. The relative proportion of economists booked as guests during economic news segments remained higher than in years past but dropped as a percentage from the third to fourth quarters of 2016. The proportional representation of women in cable and broadcast evening news discussions of the economy reached a record, but dispiriting, high in the fourth quarter at a mere 30 percent of all guests.
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In the five weeks before the November 8 presidential election, evening cable and broadcast news, major newspapers, and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows combined to flood the media landscape with coverage of hacked emails released by Wikileaks, according to an analysis by Media Matters.
After its July release of emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Wikileaks released a daily stream of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta starting in early October.
Between October 4 and November 8, weekday evening cable news aired a combined 247 segments either about the emails or featuring significant discussion of them; evening broadcast news and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows aired a combined 25 segments; and five of the country’s most-circulated daily newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- published a combined 96 articles about the emails released by Wikileaks in their print editions.
Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the U.S. intelligence community released a report with its assessment that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The assessment, which represents the view of the 16 federal intelligence agencies, concluded “with high confidence” that as part of this effort, “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”
In response to mounting evidence that Russia sought to swing the election in Trump’s favor, in part through allegedly releasing hacked emails through channels like Wikileaks, Trump and his allies have in recent months downplayed the impact of the hacks. Trump, who has repeatedly sought to de-emphasize Russia’s alleged role in the election-related hacking to begin with, has also argued that the hacks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the election. As ThinkProgress noted, “This was not the view of candidate Trump, who talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign.”
And Trump wasn’t alone.
Media Matters’ review shows that news media treated the emails released by Wikileaks a major news story in the lead-up to the election. (It’s important to note that this is only a quantitative study; Media Matters did not attempt to assess the quality of articles and news segments about the hacked emails. A segment or article criticizing coverage of the emails or highlighting suspicions about Russia’s potential involvement was counted the same as a segment or article breathlessly promoting the contents of the hacked emails.)
Data-driven news site Fivethirtyeight.com determined that the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were “almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with [Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief] Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” We reviewed transcripts and articles beginning on October 4, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, Election Day.
Evening cable news -- defined as shows airing weekdays from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC -- devoted massive coverage to the Wikileaks story, with Fox leading the way. In total, Fox News aired 173 segments over the course of the period studied. Fox also aired teasers 64 times to keep audiences hooked throughout broadcasts. The hacked emails were also mentioned in passing by a guest, correspondent, or host 137 times during additional segments about other topics.
Fox’s coverage was a near-daily obsession for its evening news hosts. Four of the six programs in the study ran at least one segment every weekday or nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7. Special Report with Bret Baier ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 4; On the Record with Brit Hume ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 7; The Kelly File ran segments on all but four weekdays between October 7 and November 7 (and on those four days, Wikileaks was still mentioned in passing at least once); and Hannity ran segments nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7 (excluding October 10 and 20, the latter of which featured at least one mention of the story).
CNN aired the second most Wikileaks coverage, with 57 segments teased to audiences 21 times and an additional 75 mentions during segments about other topics. MSNBC aired only 17 segments teased six times and tallied 23 mentions during additional segments. (MSNBC’s 6 p.m. hour, which at the time aired With All Due Respect, was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from this analysis).
On broadcast network news, the numbers are smaller, but over the course of the period studied, the networks each aired a significant number of segments on their evening news programs and Sunday morning political talk shows. ABC programs World News Tonight and This Week with George Stephanopoulos devoted the most coverage to the Wikileaks emails, with 10 segments and five mentions during additional segments combined. CBS’ Evening News and Face the Nation with John Dickerson followed, with nine segments and three mentions during additional segments combined. NBC’s Nightly News and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd aired just six segments and 12 mentions during additional segments combined.
The five major newspapers we studied each published numerous articles in their print editions (we did not include online coverage) about the Wikileaks emails in the month before the election, but three stood out from the rest. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal each published 27 articles about the emails and mentioned them in 26 and 10 other articles, respectively. The Washington Post was the third paper in this group with 26 articles about the Wikileaks emails published and mentions in 14 additional articles.
USA Today published 11 articles about the Wikileaks emails and mentioned them in three other articles while Los Angeles Times ran just five stories and mentioned the Wikileaks emails in only seven other articles.
As was the case with Trump, conservative media figures who hyped and encouraged reporting on hacked emails quickly adjusted their views on the significance of the hacked emails during the presidential transition period. After touting the release of the stolen emails, credulously reporting on numerous illegally obtained emails published by Wikileaks, encouraging Trump to “just read” the stolen emails at campaign rallies, advising Trump to “study Wikileaks,” and repeatedly providing a platform for Assange to promote the publication of the stolen emails, right-wing media figures downplayed the influence the disclosure of the emails had on the 2016 campaign. Taking the lead from Trump's transition team, some right-wing media figures then argued that “no one can articulate or specify in any way that” the publication of the private emails “affected the outcome of our election.”
Although right-wing media figures have claimed that there is “no indication that” the publication of the private emails “affected the election,” the breathless reporting on the contents of the Wikileaks disclosures by media outlets played into the hands of the Russian government’s “influence efforts to … amplif[y] stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of Wikileaks in the election campaign,” according to the intelligence community’s report. Days after the first trove of private emails was published by Wikileaks, a group of former top national security officials and outside experts warned “the press … to be cautious in the use of allegedly ‘leaked’ information,” which “follows a well-known Russian playbook.”
The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum summarized the strategy in an interview with Slate months before the first disclosure of Podesta’s personal emails:
I didn’t think about the United States because I thought the United States is too big, American politics isn’t moved by these smaller amounts of money the way that Czech politics are or Polish politics are. But I hadn’t thought through the idea that of course through hacking, which is something they’re famously very good at, that they could try and disrupt a campaign. And of course the pattern of this is something we’ve seen before: There’s a big leak, it’s right on an important political moment, it affects the way people think about the campaign, and of course instead of focusing on who did the leak and who’s interest it’s in, everyone focuses on the details, what’s in the emails, what did so-and-so write to so-and-so on Dec. 27, and that’s all that gets reported.
The press could have seen this coming. On the August 24, 2016, edition of The Kelly File, then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly interviewed Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who used the platform to hype the “material” Wikileaks planned to publish, and announced it would be released in “several batches.” Kelly asked Assange if he thought the information in his “possession could be a game changer in the US election.” Assange said the effectiveness of the release “depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media.”
Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database for news transcripts and articles that mentioned Julian Assange or Wikileaks approximately within the same paragraph as variations on any of the following terms: Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee, DNC, or John Podesta. We included cable news networks’ weekday evening programming (5:00 p.m. through 11:00 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; the evening news shows (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News) and Sunday morning political talk shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with John Dickerson, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd) on ABC, CBS, and NBC; and five of the most-circulated daily print newspapers: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. (MSNBC’s 6:00 p.m. hour, which hosted With All Due Respect was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from the analysis).
Data-driven news analysis website Fivethrityeight.com determined the hacked emails released by Wikileaks “was almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” Therefore, we reviewed articles beginning on October 4, 2016, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, 2016, Election Day.
For television, we coded as “segments” news segments where the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were the stated topic of discussion, and we also coded as “segments” when signification discussion about the hacked emails from Wikileaks occurred during segments with a different initially stated topic or during multi-topic segments. We defined significant discussion as at least two or more speakers discussing the hacked emails to one another during the course of the segment. We determined the start of a segment to be when the show’s host introduced either the topic or guests and determined the end of a segment to be when the show’s host concluded discussion or bid farewell to the show’s guests.
We coded as “mentions” comments made by a speaker about the hacked emails without any other speaker in the segment engaging. We coded as “teasers” introductions by the host of upcoming segments on the hacked emails where the segment in question did not immediately follow.
For print, we coded as “articles” news stories and opinion pieces where the hacked emails were mentioned in the headline or the lead of the story or article. If the hacked emails were used as a piece of evidence within a larger story or used to provide context, those were coded as “mentions within an article.”
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In a series of tweets by The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, we learned President Donald Trump was relying on “anecdotes about alleged fraud from sprawling network of friends & associates” to enable his latest temper tantrum about nonexistent voter fraud making him the popular vote loser.
Since the election, Trump has repeatedly claimed that millions of illegal votes swung the popular vote in favor of former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. After Trump reportedly raised the issue in a meeting with congressional leaders earlier this week, claiming three to five million illegal ballots were cast, he announced on Twitter this morning that he would seek a “major investigation” of supposed voter fraud.
We know exactly where Trump’s blatant lie came from, and we know exactly who is in the network of hucksters that supplied it to him.
For the past twelve years, Media Matters has been tracking the nexus between right-wing media and a collection of pseudo-academics and dark money-funded conservative lawyers and activists whose mission has been to roll back decades-old civil rights law, in particular those laws that did so much to help America’s communities of color.
For these far-right activists, voting rights have always been at the top of their target list, and lies about the prevalence of what is in fact virtually non-existent voter fraud has been their ammunition of choice.
From conservative pundits like John Fund, Hans von Spakovsky, J. Christian Adams, and Roger Stone to right-wing media platforms supplied by the “alt-right” fringes, Alex Jones, and Fox News, to the lawyers and statehouses who have pushed their reactionary rhetoric, the assault on the Second Reconstruction and core civil rights laws like the Voting Rights Act and various components of the Civil Rights Act has been relentless, and increasingly successful.
And now, the president is repeating one of their core and repeatedly disproven lies -- that election fraud is a systemic problem. We all have a big problem now, and nonexistent voter fraud sure isn’t it.
There is literally no honest debate to be had on this point. Voter fraud is not, and never has been, a systemic problem in modern American history. Anyone who tells you differently is lying, and anyone who humors the theory with false equivalence or “devil’s advocacy” is enabling the lie.
The real problem and horrifying prospect is that the successor to Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, and Barack Obama -- all presidents who expanded or protected the franchise -- either believes in this manufactured falsehood, or is happy to spin it further and louder for his personal political vanity.
Media Matters will continue with allies to expose this lie and its roots in media misinformation and fakery for as long as we can, and we encourage responsible journalists to continue pushing back aggressively on this flagrantly undemocratic and frankly un-American posturing of our newest president.
And to all the enablers of the voter fraud lie, the self-interested proponents of strict voter ID, the turnout conspiracy theorists, the historical “colorblind constitution” revisionists, the political beneficiaries of voter suppression and purges, now that the President of the United States has caught the carrot -- think hard about what comes next in your role as self-professed guardians of democracy.
If President Trump sees non-existent voter fraud when he wins, what’s going to happen when he loses?
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One America News Network (OANN) drew attention after President-elect Donald Trump took a question from its correspondent at his January 11 press conference. OANN, which was founded in 2013 as a right-wing news network akin to Fox News, shilled for Trump throughout his campaign and recently hired Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a commentator. The network has a history of race-baiting and presenting anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-abortion reporting.
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Before and since the election, media outlets have repeatedly failed to write headlines that adequately contextualize President Donald Trump’s lies. Simply echoing his statements normalizes his behavior and can spread disinformation, particularly given the high proportion of people who read only headlines. Below is an ongoing list documenting the media’s failure to contextualize Trump’s actions in headlines and sometimes on social media. Some of the initial versions were subsequently altered (and these are marked with an asterisk), but many of the updates still failed to adequately contextualize Trump’s remarks.
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