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  • Trump's toady at Breitbart attacks Jake Tapper, and that should worry everyone

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The White House communications director has changed, but the White House message remains the same. The mainstream press is still viewed as the administration’s enemy. All signs point to the conclusion that at best, the cold war between President Donald Trump and the media will continue, and at worst, we may be entering a new, darker phase where the Trump team turns individual journalists into targets, rather than raging against the press as an institution.

    Anthony Scaramucci, the New York financier Trump hired last week to take over his public relations effort, said in an interview on Sunday that he wants to reboot the White House’s relations with the press and create “an era of a new good feeling with the media.” But his Friday press briefing was filled with warning signs for the reporters who cover the president, and his appearances on the Sunday morning political talk shows featured attacks on “fake news” from mainstream journalists “that do stretch stories or do fabricate things.”

    “I expect that they’re going to want to hold me and the White House accountable,” Scaramucci said of reporters on Fox News Sunday, “but we’re going to sort of want to hold them accountable, too.”

    Scaramucci didn’t explain what he meant by holding reporters accountable, and host Chris Wallace didn’t press him on it. But hours later, after Scaramucci faced a tough interview on CNN, Matt Boyle, a close media ally of the president, fired off a nonsensical hit piece aimed at Scaramucci’s interlocutor, Jake Tapper.

    In their extensive, contentious interview on CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper grilled the new White House official on the investigation into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia. After one particularly heated exchange, in which Tapper asked why Trump still refuses to accept the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Scaramucci suggested that the press is deliberately trying to delegitimize Trump’s presidency by covering the story.

    Tapper’s interview quickly drew attention from his colleagues in the press. Numerous media outlets highlighted Scaramucci’s claim to Tapper that an anonymous person had told him that if the Russians had actually hacked Democratic Party institutions, as the U.S. intelligence community has said, “you would have never seen it.” Seconds later, after Tapper pressed him for the source, Scaramucci admitted it was Trump.

    But that embarrassing incident wasn’t why Tapper’s interview drew the attention of Matt Boyle, the bombastic Trump sycophant who serves as Washington bureau chief for Breitbart.com, the conservative organ previously run by the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Boyle had been rewarded the day before by getting the first interview with Scaramucci as newly minted White House communications director. The pair spent the interview joking about a possible place for Boyle in the administration and lashing out at CNN over their “fake news.”

    In a piece that reads like bad oppo used by someone more interested in nailing a political foe than considering whether his argument holds up, Boyle fixated on Tapper’s statement that he had grown up in a Philadelphia neighborhood “very similar” to Scaramucci's. According to Boyle, Tapper had “been caught misstating his background on live television” because he “puffed up his own credentials trying to link himself back to the middle class and the working class in America -- a link he does not have.”

    But Boyle provided no evidence that Tapper’s statement that he grew up in a middle class neighborhood was inaccurate, instead focusing on the CNN anchor’s tenure at a “private elite high school with exorbitant tuition rates” and at Dartmouth College to claim that he “is in fact an Ivy League elite.”

    These facts are neither new nor contradictory. As Tapper explained on Twitter yesterday -- in a thread that Boyle embedded in the article -- his parents divorced when he was young, and he split time between his doctor father’s suburban home and his mother’s house in a working class neighborhood. Ignoring what Tapper actually said, Boyle suggests the CNN host is lying because Tapper's school was expensive (notably, Boyle knows the current price of tuition, but not the price when Tapper attended decades ago). Moreover, Boyle’s attack on Tapper for attending a pricey “elite high school” downplays a key fact: The school, according to Forward, was a Jewish day school. Criticizing someone as an elite because they attended a religious school instead of a public one is a curious maneuver for a purportedly conservative outlet. (The salt-of-the-earth Scaramucci attended Tufts University and Harvard Law School before joining Goldman Sachs.)

    Notably, the Boyle piece does not challenge Tapper’s reporting in any real way. It’s an attack on him, not on his work.

    It’s certainly not unusual for Breitbart to attack real journalists. But was it simply a coincidence that the president’s house organ published a hit piece on a journalist who engaged in a combative interview with a White House staffer, or is there something more in play?

    Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that “Republican operatives close to the White House” are conducting opposition research on reporters as part of “what could be an extensive campaign” to discredit journalists who report on the Russia story. Feeding negative information to conservative news outlets was seen as a key part of that effort. And Tapper has long been a top target of the White House -- Axios reported back in February that GOP operatives were pushing anti-Tapper hit pieces after a contentious interview with White House aide Kellyanne Conway.

    The Trump administration often seems to divide reporters into two categories: the pro-Trump ones who are praised and rewarded for their loyalty, and the mainstream media “opposition party” who are often undermined and attacked.

    But while the Trump White House’s attacks on the press have been a key element of his team’s messaging strategy throughout the administration thus far, the criticisms have largely targeted the institution of the media at large, or particular outlets that angered the president. (The key exception is CNN’s Jim Acosta, who challenged the president during a February press conference.) By contrast, during the campaign, Trump frequently lashed out at individual reporters by name, on Twitter and on the stump. His most prominent targets received a wave of death threats and hate mail, at times compelling them to hire security guards.

    We’ve already seen cases where the press office uses its media allies to target mainstream outlets. We may be seeing a lot more of that in the days to come. If the White House and its allies begin targeting individual reporters, the consequences could be dire.

  • Trump is reportedly considering fulfilling a months-long right-wing media fantasy to fire Robert Mueller

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump and his legal team “are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest,” according to a Washington Post report. The president’s right-wing media allies have waged a months-long campaign against Mueller and his team, calling for Mueller to be fired or his investigation “to be shut down,” and citing supposed “conflicts of interest” among members of Mueller’s investigative team and even of Mueller himself.

  • Fox News is unusually focused on the nationality of the officer who shot Justine Damond (he's Somali-American)

    The network’s coverage mainstreams xenophobic narratives about immigrant crime

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 17, developments emerged in two cases of fatal officer-involved shootings, but Fox News rushed to cover only one of them and focused disproportionately on the officer’s nationality in doing so.

    On the day Balch Springs, Texas, police officer Roy Oliver was indicted for the fatal shooting of Jordan Edwards, a black teenager, news broke of the July 15 shooting of an Australian woman by a Minneapolis, MN, police officer who was later identified as Mohamed Noor. Noor is Somali-American. While Fox News aired several segments about Noor, the network made not a single mention of the indictment of Oliver, who is white, continuing its disinterest in the case since Edwards was killed on April 29 in Dallas, TX.

    In the first three days of coverage following the shooting of Justine Ruszczyk (who went by the surname of her fiancé, Don Damond), Fox News covered the story in 11 segments, six of which mentioned that the officer was “Somali-American,” an "immigrant" from Somalia, the first Somali-American to patrol that precinct, or that Minneapolis boasts a “very significant Somali population.” A Fox News article online began both its headline and body with Noor’s Somali background. In the same period, MSNBC and CNN both dedicated seven and 14 segments, respectively, to the story. CNN reporters did mention his Somali-American identity twice when prompted by hosts for more details about his background. MSNBC did not mention that he is Somali-American.

    Fox News’ Tucker Carlson went so far as to claim the mainstream media is engaged in a deliberate cover-up of the officer’s nationality. On the July 18 edition of his show, Carlson said, "Mohamed Noor was an immigrant from Somalia. Is that a relevant fact? We don't know. But it's being treated as one by many news organizations. How do you know that? Because they're not reporting it."

    Carlson was wrong to claim news organizations didn’t mention that the officer is Somali-American. His rival network CNN mentioned it that same day, and while The Washington Post -- which Carlson referenced -- did publish an early article on the story that did not mention his name or nationality (officials had not yet confirmed the identity of the officer), the paper also published a piece the next morning entirely focused on Noor and reactions in the Somali community of Minneapolis, which is bracing for backlash in the wake of the shooting. Moreover, Minnesota state officials did not publicly release the identities of the two officers involved in the shooting until Tuesday night (July 18), meaning three of Fox’s reports on Noor’s Somali identity were seemingly based on early reporting by the Star Tribune that had not yet been confirmed by police.

    Carlson was also misguided in his implication that other outlets’ omission of Noor’s nationality is evidence that it’s relevant. While many questions about the incident remain, and there are legitimate grievances being voiced by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, Damond’s family, and the Australian government over the police department’s lack of transparency in the case, none of them are focused on Noor’s identity. In fact, Damond’s hometown newspaper in Australia ran a front-page headline reading “AMERICAN NIGHTMARE” in reference to what Australians quoted in the piece see as a country “infested” with guns and a “very risky place in terms of gun violence.” Damond’s family, which just suffered a tragic loss at the hands of police, hasn't focused on Noor’s identity as particularly relevant in reports. Fox News is the exception, not the norm.

    In the cases of police brutality against Jordan Edwards, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and many others, all of whom were black, Fox News assigned no particular relevance to the nationalities of the officers involved. But the network did, in various cases, invite guests to defend the officers’ actions, criticize the victims of the shooting, or use the incident to promote questionable or problematic policing tactics. The disproportionate attention Fox News paid to Noor’s immigrant background and its resistance to defend him elucidates the limits of its pro-police posture.

    And the network’s coverage, while an outlier for mainstream reporting on the story, is essentially a more sanitized version of stories with headlines like “First Somali-Muslim police officer in Minnesota KILLS blonde yoga instructor in cold blood” and “Unarmed White Woman Murdered In Minnesota, Dems SILENT After Shooter's ID Revealed…”. There are many more. Noor’s religion has not been obsessed upon outside of far-right blogs and Twitter.

    Minnesota’s Somali immigrant community has been a strangely popular target for Fox News and other right-wing media outlets. The network has previously fearmongered about Somali immigrants, called the area “ground zero” for ISIS recruitment, and attacked the Minneapolis mayor for giving her State of the City address in a mosque. Fringe media websites and fake news purveyors recently targeted Minneapolis in response to the city’s announcement that it was launching a hate crimes reporting hotline, claiming the move amounted to “fascism.”

    In its hyperfocus on Noor’s nationality, Fox News served to validate the racism, xenophobia, and debunked associations between immigration and crime espoused by pro-Trump fake news purveyors, conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, and notorious Islamophobes alike. Noor's background is only as relevant as it is in any officer-involved shooting, and if it's being touted as more than that, we should be asking why.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched SnapStream between 5 a.m. and midnight on both July 17 and 18 and between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m on July 19 for mentions of “Roy” or “Oliver,” “Edward” or “Jordan,” and “Somali,” "Noor," "Minneapolis," “Minnesota,” "Damond," "Ruszcyzk," and “Australia.” Teaser segments were excluded.

  • Chris Cillizza's Reddit AMA was a delightful catastrophe

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    CNN’s Chris Cillizza took to Reddit to participate in one of the message board community’s “Ask me anything” (AMA) forums. The questions posed, if anything, demonstrated Cillizza’s unique ability to unite people in the consensus that his brand of optics-obsessed, fact-free, punditry-style journalism sucks and, in many instances, does a disservice to political reporting. Our favorite questions featured on Cillizza’s AMA did the following:

    1. pointed out that his reporting favors “absurd horserace coverage that focuses on inside baseball to the exclusion of real working families” and is more “shallow” than informative.

    2. accurately critiqued his extremely gonzo attempt at journalism.

    3. questioned his obsessive focus on former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails.

    4. used colorful descriptors of his work, such as “an insufferable hack.”

    5. went meta.

    6.  acknowledged the feet thing.

    7. talked sports.

    8. brought up the Ivanka thing.

    9. addressed wages.

    10. pointed out his similarities to another infamous bespectacled pundit.

    11. showed concern for his judgment.

  • CNN is paying Stephen Moore to lie to its viewers about health care

    If you're going to give Moore air time, at least fact-check him

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Discredited economic pundit and former Trump campaign adviser Stephen Moore continues embarrassing CNN during news segments with his supposed policy expertise. Media Matters compared two of Moore’s recent appearances -- one in which he appeared alongside a credentialed policy expert, and one in which he faced only an ill-prepared network host -- and found distinct differences in the tone of each discussion. These differences demonstrate the dangers of news outlets continuing to rely on unscrupulous hangers-on from the Trump administration to comment on policy issues.

    Over the years, Media Matters has chronicled Moore’s shoddy predictions, intentional misinformation, and misleading claims. Despite ample evidence of Moore’s gross incompetence as an economic analyst, CNN still hired him in January under the guise of “senior economics analyst” to serve as a sort of in-house surrogate for the Trump administration. Moore has spent his time at CNN undermining his colleagues and embarrassing his network while ceaselessly parroting the Republican Party’s agenda. His shameless defense of the president’s unfounded reasoning for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord even led Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs to blast CNN on its own program for maintaining a relationship with the pundit.

    Moore’s two appearances late last week underscore how problematic he is as an employee of a news network and reveal how CNN ought to handle his future appearances.

    During the July 13 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, Moore was interviewed alongside University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee about the Republican-led Senate’s floundering proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Moore opened the segment by endorsing an amendment authored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), which experts believe would restrict coverage options and increase costs for Americans living with pre-existing conditions. He misleadingly blamed the ACA for increasing health care costs -- prices are actually "rising at historically low levels" since the law went into effect -- and encouraged the use of so-called “catastrophic” insurance policies, which provide limited packages to young individuals at low cost and are considered inadequate by health care experts. Luckily for CNN viewers, Goolsbee -- a former chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers and college debate champion -- was there to provide pushback to these false and misleading claims:

    Compare Goolsbee’s repeated fact-check of Moore’s misstatements to another Moore appearance in which CNN did not host an economic policy expert to counter the conservative pundit.

    On the July 14 edition of CNN’s Wolf, Moore sat for an interview with guest host Jim Sciutto, the network’s chief national security correspondent, to discuss the same topics and was allowed to promote his right-wing agenda virtually unchallenged. Moore falsely claimed that catastrophic health insurance plans could save middle-class families thousands of dollars and got away with an unsubstantiated guess that politically, the GOP bill’s reduction of insurance premiums outweighs the fact that it would strip coverage from 22 million people. When Sciutto questioned him about the fact that repealing ACA would harm millions of Americans who receive Medicaid, Moore promoted the right-wing lie that “Medicaid is one of the worst insurance systems” and low-income Americans would be better off without it. Sciutto did not challenge Moore when he falsely claimed that the ACA repeal process in 2017 is “déjà vu all over again” compared to how the law was passed in 2010 when, according to Moore, then-President Barack Obama “had to buy those last couple of votes in Senate to get there.” In reality, the ACA passed 60-39 with the support of every Democrat in the chamber, whereas the current Senate bill has yet to get 50 supporters among 52 Republican senators:

    Moore’s partisan talking points can be easily unraveled by competent analysts and experts; his attempt to promote the same right-wing fallacies about health care was rebutted by health care expert Andy Slavitt during the July 10 edition of New Day. In fact, his dissembling can be easily countered if the interviewer is adequately prepared. But since Moore is a professional misinformer who has spent years honing his craft, if an interviewer is ill-prepared, the segment can quickly devolve into Moore amplifying his routine talking points, which serve only his conservative political agenda.