Michael Isikoff

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  • Donald Trump's Rejection Of Critical Coverage Is Literally The Same As A Murderous Dictator's

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Adopting a tactic deployed by conservatives in the United States to dismiss credible mainstream reporting, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected a report that showed “evidence of torture and mass hangings in one of his military prisons” by calling it “‘fake news.’”

    Assad spurned “a new Amnesty International report estimating that between 5,000 and 13,000 [Syrian] prisoners were killed in a ‘calculated campaign of extrajudicial execution,’” telling Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff that the “biased and politicized” evidence was “fake news.” Assad also claimed that the “propaganda” from Amnesty International calls “into question the credibility of” the international human rights advocacy organization. 

    Isikoff also reported that Assad "appeared to lend support" to President Donald Trump's Muslim ban by claiming that there "'definitely'" are "terrorist sympathizers embedded among Syria's 4.8 million refugees." 

    Like Assad, conservative media figures, as well as Trump and his White House press secretary Sean Spicer, have been calling negative reporting from credible mainstream outlets “fake news.” Since his inauguration, Trump has derided media outlets and journalists as “fake news” at least ten times. Spicer said a New York Times article about Trump’s adjustment to living in the White House was “‘literally the epitome of fake news,’” and Trump deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka warned that the White House will continue to attack media outlets as “fake news” until “the media understands how wrong” it is “to attack” Trump.

    The trend of strongmen delegitimizing unfavorable but legitimate reporting as “fake news” is disconcerting: Russian propagandists working on behalf of President Vladimir Putin also reportedly undercut evidence of carnage in Aleppo as “fake news.”

    Misappropriating the term “fake news,” to mean anything Trump and his allies in both the White House and conservative media circles disagree with, helps Trump degrade the mainstream media, which, in effect, helps chip away at the biggest barrier to his effort to gaslight his way through his presidency. Dismissing legitimate reporting as “fake news” effectively opens a space for disinformation to compete with objective fact and for propaganda to thrive. If multiple top world leaders are misappropriating the concept of "fake news" to push their own agendas, perhaps the war on information is bigger than we thought. 

  • Near Absence Of Trump Campaign’s Latest Russia Problem From Sunday Shows Follows A Familiar Pattern

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    CNN’s Jake Tapper was the only Sunday show host on September 25 to discuss a report that American intelligence officials are probing Russian government ties to a man Trump has identified as a foreign policy adviser, Carter Page. This latest revelation is yet another missed opportunity by the Sunday political talk shows to feature investigative stories about Trump and his campaign over the past month.

    On September 23, Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reported that “U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials.” Among the problematic contacts Page has reportedly had with aides to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is Igor Diveykin, who “is believed by U.S. officials to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election.” The article also quoted a Trump spokesperson calling Page an “‘informal foreign adviser’” to Trump.

    In an interview with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway on CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper cited the Yahoo! News article and questioned Conway if the campaign had talked to Page about his meetings with Russian officials. Conway denied that Page was part of the Trump campaign at this time and said that he was not authorized to talk to Russia on the campaign’s behalf.

    The other Sunday hosts -- NBC’s Chuck Todd, CBS’ John Dickerson, Fox’s Chris Wallace, and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos -- who interviewed Trump adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, and Conway, respectively -- all failed to question their Trump surrogate guests about the report. The only other mentions of the report on the Sunday shows were from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s surrogates, with Clinton running mate Tim Kaine alluding to the “news of this past week [that] shows us a whole series of very serious questions about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia” on CBS’ Face the Nation, and Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon mentioning Page on CNN’s Reliable Sources.

    The near blackout of this story from the Sunday shows is turning into a familiar pattern regarding investigative reports on Trump. Over the past month, the Sunday political talk shows have repeatedly failed to feature new reporting that reflects poorly on Trump. On September 4, just days after The Washington Post broke the story that Trump’s foundation illegally gave a political donation in 2013 and that Trump paid the IRS a penalty for it, only CBS’ Dickerson brought it up; on other shows, guests were forced to mention it. The next week, as they were all covering the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, every Sunday show completely ignored the New York Daily News’ investigation that revealed Trump unethically accepted $150,000 in government aid after the attacks and that Trump bragged that one of his buildings was now the largest in the area just hours after the 9/11 attacks. And just last week, the Sunday shows again mostly omitted new reporting on Trump, specifically the news that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was investigating Trump’s charitable foundation over concerns of impropriety and Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek report that detailed the “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” that would be present in the foreign policy of a President Trump due to his deep business ties to foreign countries and businesspeople.

    The report on Page also follows Trump’s repeated praise of Putin, who he has called “highly respected within his own country and beyond,” later adding that if Putin “says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” Journalists have slammed Trump for his remarks, noting the country has targeted and murdered journalists.

  • Rep. Elijah Cummings Debunks Right-Wing Media's Claim That Clinton Sent "Classified Information" About CIA Source Over Private Email

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, cited information from the CIA to debunk the claim that Hillary Clinton compromised national security by revealing the name of a CIA source in an email sent from her private account. The claim originated from the Republicans serving on the U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi and was amplified by right-wing media, but now the CIA has informed the Select Committee that the e-mail did not contain any classified information, according to a letter released by Cummings.

  • Michael Isikoff Turns To Old News To Revive Whitewater Obsession

    Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN


    Yahoo News correspondent Michael Isikoff is retreading old news to once again try to thrust Whitewater into the national political debate, continuing an obsession of his that dates back more than 20 years.

    Isikoff dramatically touted the "first extensive public comments" made by Robert Fiske, the federal prosecutor initially appointed to investigate the failed Whitewater land deal, in which the Clintons lost money but were at first falsely accused of criminal conduct. Fiske spoke to Isikoff during a recent interview about his soon-to-be-released memoir and Whitewater, which Isikoff warned "seems likely to be revived by political foes if, as is widely expected, Hillary Clinton runs for president."

    This is a convenient dodge for Isikoff, who has spent two decades helping political foes use Whitewater to try to bring down the Clintons.

    But nothing in Isikoff's latest entry in his Whitewater saga about the Clintons is new.

    "For years, the Clintons have sought to portray the entire investigation as a politically inspired witch hunt, pushed by partisans hunting for any ammunition they could find to damage the president and first lady," Isikoff wrote. "But the new account of Fiske, a pillar of the New York legal community, offers a more complicated picture."

    Isikoff doesn't back that up.

    In fact, Fiske himself undermined the claim that Whitewater could be used against Clinton, noting that he never uncovered any evidence that Bill or Hillary Clinton were connected to any crimes:

    He describes how he had quickly uncovered "serious crimes" in the Whitewater investigation but that his probe was cut short after conservatives falsely accused him of a "cover up."

    "There were indictments, there were convictions," said Fiske when asked about claims that there was "nothing" to the investigation. "People went to jail. There was never any evidence that was sufficient to link the Clintons to any of it, but there were certainly serious crimes."

    Isikoff suggests that one new detail is Fiske's claim that he was prepared to bring indictments against individuals connected to the land deal. But this hardly noteworthy, given that it has been publicly known that indictments were brought against individuals connected to the land deal.

    Isikoff even tries to revive the ancient news that billing records connected to the investigation were at one point found in the White House residence, an aspect of the story the right has long attempted to twist into a scandal.

    "One of [Fiske's] first moves was to subpoena Hillary Clinton's law firm billing records," Isikoff writes, "documents that were later found under mysterious circumstances in the White House living quarters." What Isikoff never mentioned is that those billing documents actually backed up what Hillary Clinton had long maintained, that she did very little work for her law firm on behalf of the land deal -- nor does he note that Kenneth Starr, the investigator who ultimately replaced Fiske, found no evidence that the billing records were ever mishandled.

    Isikoff's Yahoo News piece, devoid of relevant new facts, lacking in critical details, and filled with insinuations of wrongdoing that he actively undermines, is troubling given the praise conservatives media figures have showered him with for his inadequate Clinton reporting in the past. At one point in 1998, Sean Hannity spent four consecutive days lauding Isikoff for his reporting.

    In contrast, Jeffrey Toobin, currently a legal analyst at CNN, told Salon in 2000 that Isikoff acted as "an uncritical water-carrier for the anti-Clinton forces."

    It's a history worth remembering as Isikoff warns how Clinton's political foes might attack her.

  • No, Newsweek was not in the tank for Bill Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    The most hilarious right-wing claim of liberal media bias to surface this week has to be Rush Limbaugh-biographer Zev Chafets' suggestion that Newsweek was in the tank for Bill Clinton in the 1990s and tried to bury the Lewinsky story:

    The mainstream media was with the Clintons; Newsweek had refrained from even publishing the Lewinsky story, which it had before Drudge, evidently out of a misguided belief that it could keep the story from going public.

    As Media Matters has explained, that isn't why Newsweek held the story -- it held the story because it hadn't nailed it down yet.

    But even absent that explanation, no fair-minded person who was paying attention at the time could possibly believe Newsweek was "with the Clintons" or that it wanted to downplay Clinton controversies.

    A quick search of the Nexis database of Newsweek archives finds 304 articles that mentioned Lewinsky in 1998 alone. 304. That's not exactly a sign of a news organization that was trying to suppress the story.

    Then there's the fact that when Washington Post reporter Michael Isikoff's overzealous obsession with the Paula Jones "story" led to the Post (which was eagerly pushing more than its share of trumped up non-scandals) tiring of his act, Newsweek snatched him right up. Michael Duffy, who was Time's Washington bureau chief at the time, said in 1998 that "Paula Jones was practically a subsidiary of Newsweek's." Hiring Mike Isikoff is certainly not something a magazine would do if it was in the tank for Bill Clinton.

    Nor would a magazine that was in the tank for Bill Clinton do the bidding of Ken Starr's office, as Newsweek acknowledged it did. Newsweek assistant managing editor Ann McDaniel said in 1998 that "The independent counsel's office pleaded with us not to make calls that would interfere with the investigation … In an effort to find out more about the story, we complied." American Journalism Review added some detail:

    January 17: Four p.m. came and went, but Starr's people weren't ready. They still wanted more time, Isikoff says, because they hoped to "flip" Lewinsky, to get her to cooperate with the investigation. Starr had tapes of conversations in which Lewinsky intimated that the president and Jordan encouraged her to lie in her sworn affidavit in the Jones case, as well as other evidence. But he wanted more.

    "At that point the prosecutors had said to Mike: 'If you call anybody for a comment, it's going to blow our case. We haven't had a chance to interrogate Monica,' " says Mark Whitaker, Newsweek's managing editor.

    In other words, Ken Starr's office asked Newsweek not to make phone calls that could tip Clinton off to the investigation -- and Newsweek agreed, in effect becoming an ally of Starr's investigation rather than an observer of it. Had Newsweek been in the tank for Clinton, as Chafets absurdly claims, it would certainly have behaved differently.

    And, of course, a magazine eager to cover for the Clintons probably wouldn't have published the (Isikoff-penned) 1997 article detailing allegations against Clinton by the breathtakingly unreliable Kathleen Willey.

    You get the point: Newsweek's coverage of Bill Clinton was downright nasty; the magazine hyped Paula Jones' lawsuit though it was obvious she simply didn't have a case; it peddled Kathleen Willey's claims dispute her absolutely astounding lack of credibility; and it ran enough Lewinsky articles to fill a book. And yet Zev Chafets insists Newsweek was in the tank for Clinton. That belongs in the "nutty right-wing media criticism" hall of fame, alongside Brent Bozell's complaint that the media, at 500 news reports a day, wasn't paying enough attention to the Lewinsky story in 1998.

  • Disregarding Fitzgerald's warning, media use Blagojevich scandal to engage in guilt-by-association against Obama


    Disregarding U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's warning to "not cast aspersions on people for being named or being discussed" in the criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, several in the media have used the scandal as an opportunity to engage in suggestions of guilt-by-association against President-elect Barack Obama, by rehashing Obama's purportedly "questionable associations," or suggesting that Obama is a product of corrupt "Chicago politics."

  • MSNBC's Brewer, Newsweek's Isikoff baselessly speculated about impact of Blagojevich arrest on Obama

    ››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

    MSNBC Live co-host Contessa Brewer baselessly speculated that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest for, among other allegations, allegedly trying to sell President-elect Obama's Senate seat, might "taint" Obama and "whoever gets named to the Senate seat." Newsweek's Michael Isikoff responded, in part, that "this is a very sticky matter for Obama," adding: "There are a lot of -- a web of interrelationships between Obama and Blagojevich's political world that's gonna make this awkward." Neither noted that, as U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald did later, the criminal complaint "makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever."