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  • New MSNBC host Hugh Hewitt is Sean Hannity in glasses

    The Trump supporter puts an intellectual shine on partisan hackery

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    “It is hard work to read widely and broadly, and on both sides of the political aisle,” conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt wrote in a July 2014 explanation of why he had decided to, in his words, “embarrass” a young Huffington Post journalist during an interview on his radio show by quizzing him about what books he had read about the war on terror. “Time consuming. Not very fun actually. But necessary. If you intend to be taken seriously. More importantly, if you intend the country to endure.”

    Since then, NBC hired Hewitt as a political analyst, The Washington Post brought him on as a contributing columnist, and MSNBC has now announced that it is handing Hewitt a weekly show airing on Saturday mornings. These media outlets fell for the idea that he is a different type of conservative talker, the “antidote” to “bombastic personalities” like Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. In reality, his actions during the 2016 presidential election campaign and the early months of the Trump administration have showed that he simply puts an intellectual gloss on their same brand of partisan hackery.

    In recent weeks, while pundits who share Hewitt's reputation for erudition have castigated the president as dangerously unlearned and incurious, Hewitt has instead stood alongside the president's media sycophants, laying down cover fire for Trump. Hewitt supported Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating his campaign's connections to the Russian government; he downplayed reports that Trump had revealed highly classified information in a meeting with Russian officials; after numerous outlets reported that Comey had kept notes of a meeting with Trump in which the president suggested he halt an investigation into a Trump aide, Hewitt's focus was on whether Comey, not Trump, had behaved appropriately. 

    A breakout media star of the campaign, Hewitt garnered numerous glowing profiles stressing his intellectual heft and curiosity: the “necessary bookshelf” of national security tomes he promotes on this website; how he opens interviews by asking his guests if they know who Alger Hiss is and have read Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Tower*; his friends on all sides of the political debate; his regular interviews of prominent mainstream journalists; his experience in politics, law, and academia; and in particular the way those features make him distinct from other conservative radio and cable news hosts.

    But Hewitt set aside his concern for the life of the mind and voted for Donald Trump for president, a man of manifest ignorance and intellectual laziness who is unaware of basic historical facts and legal principles, uninterested in policy nuance or detail. As Hewitt had noted in demolishing a 31-year-old journalist, it is “hard work to read widely,” and Trump never bothered to try -- it seems plausible he has read fewer books as an adult than he is credited with writing. Asked to name the last book he had read in an interview last May, Trump commented, “I read passages. I read -- I read areas, I read chapters. I just -- I don't have the time."

    For Hewitt, reading widely was necessary to credibly comment on foreign policy, but not to make it.

    Hewitt, who remained neutral during the Republican presidential primary, frequently provided Trump with friendly access to his audience; he was “the very best interview in America,” according to the host. In none of those interviews with a man who was seeking to be the potential next leader of the free world was Hewitt nearly as aggressive as he had been in his interview with a young Huffington Post reporter.**

    In their first interview, in February 2015, Trump acknowledged that he hadn’t read The Looming Tower, couldn’t name any works of fiction that he’d read, and admitted that he could not speak about nuclear submarines in any real detail (“I just know this. Military is very important to me.”). None of this seemed to strike Hewitt as a problem.

    Hewitt could perhaps be forgiven for not going after Trump with guns blazing at that time, before Trump had announced he was running for president, when many commentators thought that his potential run was a joke. But as the months passed and Trump became and remained the Republican front-runner, Hewitt never pivoted to consistently scrutinizing Trump’s intellectual stature.

    Hewitt drew attention and praise for their seventh interview in September 2015. Saying that he was finally going to give the Republican front-runner “commander in chief questions,” the radio host quizzed Trump about major terrorist leaders and international events. “I’m looking for the next commander-in-chief, to know who Hassan Nasrallah is, and Zawahiri, and al-Julani, and al-Baghdadi. Do you know the players without a scorecard, yet, Donald Trump?” Hewitt asks at one point. “No, you know, I’ll tell you honestly, I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone,” Trump replied.

    Commentators praised Hewitt for having “stumped” and “tripped up” Trump. Hewitt himself takes issue with those characterizations, and indeed, if you review the interview transcript, you’ll find Hewitt repeatedly bringing Trump back from the ledge that the candidate’s ignorance put him on.

    Hewitt let Trump get away with saying it was appropriate for him not to learn about foreign policy issues until he’s elected and claiming that he wasn’t willing to talk about hypotheticals because he didn’t “want the other side to know” what he would do. At one point Trump openly rejected the entire premise of Hewitt’s purported worldview, saying that because he’s a “delegator” who hires “great people” it’s “ridiculous” to ask him specific questions about prominent figures and world events.

    Following the interview, as pundits criticized Trump for his performance, the candidate lashed out at Hewitt as a “third-rate radio announcer.” After initially defending his own performance, Hewitt said that it was his fault that Trump had "misunderstood" his question.

    Trump's criticism got results, as the host adjusted his interview style to get back on Trump’s good side. Hewitt interviewed Trump eight more times over the course of the presidential campaign. He never again asked Trump a question intended to demonstrate whether the candidate had specific knowledge, instead focusing on open-ended foreign policy hypotheticals, process questions, and softballs about Clinton’s alleged misdeeds.

    In the end, the erudite Hewitt, who cast aspersions at a reporter for commenting on foreign policy without first reading the right books, ended up supporting Trump just as Limbaugh and Hannity did, and for much the same reasons. In the end, Hewitt was a partisan, towing the Republican line and supporting the party’s nominee in spite of Trump’s manifest ignorance.

    “Of course I am voting for Donald Trump. You should be too if you are a conservative,” Hewitt wrote in July. His case was a raw appeal to the need to ensure that Republicans gained access to the levers of power. Conservative dominance of the U.S. Supreme Court outweighed all other factors, according to Hewitt; his other arguments included the claim that “Hillary Clinton is thoroughly compromised by the Russians,” that Trump will appoint conservatives to positions of power, and that he definitely really “isn’t a racist, or a dangerous demagogue, a Mussolini-in-waiting, a Caesar off-stage.”

    When Hewitt did speak out against Trump -- at times even calling for the Republican National Committee to take action to prevent him from being nominated and urging the nominee to drop out -- his argument was again partisan: that Trump should be replaced because he could not win. Trump was on the ticket on Election Day, and so Hewitt voted for him.

    This sort of naked partisanship -- the belief that one’s party is better for the country than the alternative, and thus should be supported as long as its candidate can meet some bare minimum standard (“isn’t a racist, or a dangerous demagogue”) -- is a defensible position. But it’s certainly not the position one would expect from someone with Hewitt’s exalted reputation, especially with that bare minimum very much in question.

    Trump’s rise was a revelatory moment that separated out the conservative commentators who had a political principle beyond ensuring the Republican Party gained power from those who did not. Several of Hewitt’s colleagues who are similarly regarded as intellectuals distinguished themselves by condemning Trump, saying that they could not in good conscience support someone with his history of ignorance, bigotry, vulgarity, and demagoguery. Hewitt failed this test, in a manner that clashes with the story Hewitt tells about himself, and the one that others tell about him.

    Since Trump clinched the Republican nomination, some in the conservative press have blamed right-wing commentators like Limbaugh and Hannity for being willing to set aside principles and carry water for the candidate. But that behavior was completely in character for the right-wing talk radio hosts, who have long served as standard bearers of the Republican Party.

    While his megaphone is much smaller than those of Limbaugh and Hannity, Hewitt presents a bigger problem for the conservative movement. He was one of the few with a reputation as an intellectual force who was willing to sacrifice his principles to back the GOP nominee -- and was rewarded with new posts at The Washington Post and MSNBC as an in-house Trump supporter.

    Like other pro-Trump pundits, Hewitt is regularly called upon to defend the indefensible, and he frequently rises to the challenge. His recent missives at the Post include columns headlined "It's time to relax about Trump," "Stop the Trump hysteria," and "Trump’s first 100 days give conservatives a lot to celebrate."

    But unlike the Jeffrey Lords and Kayleigh McEnanys, and perhaps because of his strong relationships with mainstream journalists and pundits, Hewitt has largely managed to keep his reputation intact. He doesn’t deserve to.

    “I would not go through life ignorant of key facts, especially important facts. So many of the people writing under bylines are willing to do just the opposite today,” Hewitt concluded in his essay about why he embarrasses journalists. “It cannot end well when a free people are choosing leaders based upon the reporting of a class of people both biased and blind as well as wholly unaware of both or if aware, unwilling to work at getting smart enough to do their jobs well.”

    Fair enough. But surely it also “cannot end well” when the leaders we choose are also “unwilling to work at getting smart.” That is, perhaps, a key fact of which Hewitt remains ignorant.

    Hewitt got his Supreme Court justice. All it cost him was his dignity.

    Shelby Jamerson provided additional research. Images by Sarah Wasko.

    *Hewitt says he asks about Hiss “because the answer provides a baseline as to the journalist’s grasp of both modern American political history and to a crucial fault-line through it,” and about The Looming Tower because “It is almost journalistic malpractice to opine on any aspect of the West’s conflict with Islamist radicalism without having read Wright’s work, which won the Pulitzer Prize and which is the standard text.” For the record, the author knows who Hiss is, believes the evidentiary record supports the conclusion that he was a Soviet spy, and has read The Looming Tower.

    ** Hewitt has interviewed Trump 15 times during the campaign, for the following editions of his radio show: February 25, 2015; June 22, 2015; August 3, 2015; August 12, 2015; August 26, 2015; August 29, 2015; September 3, 2015; September 21, 2015; October 22, 2015; November 5, 2015; December 1, 2015; February 4, 2016; February 22, 2016; June 23, 2016; and August 11, 2016.

  • “Mind control,” “shadow government,” and Seth Rich: Sean Hannity’s history of pushing conspiracy theories

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News host Sean Hannity attracted widespread condemnation for pushing conspiracy theories about a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, but it wasn’t his first time promoting or entertaining such wild claims on air. From claiming that the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick protested the national anthem because he “may have converted to Islam” to implying that former President Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer, here are some examples of Hannity embracing conspiracy theories.

  • It’s Not Just Trump: Republicans Constantly Lying About Health Care Means Reporters Face A Growing Challenge

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    As the Beltway press scrambles to keep pace with the White House’s shifting explanations as to why President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey -- explanations that seem built on a laundry list of daily deceptions -- journalists are now fighting a multiple-front war versus the Republican crusade to embrace fabrications as a rule.

    The erratic new president has unleashed a torrent of lies in the place of public policy discussion, but the serial mendacity on the right is hardly limited to Trump. That means journalists face a growing challenge in trying to ferret out the facts.

    After voting to pass a sweeping health care bill with no formal cost assessment, which hadn’t been marked up in policy committees, and which hadn’t even been read by all members of Congress, Republicans have been on an extraordinary public relations campaign to support the controversial legislation.

    The push is extraordinary because Republican officials, led by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, are aggressively fabricating claims about the bill that’s now pending before the Senate. In a Trump era of endless firsts, this is likely the first time we’ve seen a major American political party try to pass a landmark social policy initiative by categorically misstating almost every key claim about the bill.   

    No, the House bill does not protect people with pre-existing conditions. It does not protect older Americans from increased insurance costs. It does not mean everyone will be charged the same for insurance. The bill wasn’tbipartisan.” And it does not allow “for every single person to get the access to the kind of coverage that they want,” as Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price claims.

    If it did those things, the bill wouldn’t be controversial, would it? So instead, Republicans are committed to selling a fantasy version of the House bill -- and hoping the press doesn’t call them out on it.

    “What really stands out, however, is the Orwell-level dishonesty of the whole effort,” wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.”

    This represents a dangerous new age in American politics. If Republicans succeed by lying about their health care plan, there’s no telling what the next target of GOP fabrications will be.

    Right now, the future does not look promising because while some journalists and opinion writers, including those quoted above, are rightfully pointing out the GOP lies, others are routinely treating Republican health care lies as merely assertions in a larger he said/he said partisan debate.

    As Brian Beutler noted at The New Republic:

    To that end, these Republicans are counting on the reporters who interview them, and the news outlets that report on AHCA, to either not grasp finer points of health policy or to feel inhibited from disputing lies, so that the lies get transmitted to the public uncorrected.

    Indeed, if Republicans don’t get called out for trafficking in fabrications, what’s the incentive for them to stop? If the press treats the GOP’s systematic lying as nothing more than partisan spin, there’s little downside to the strategy.

    On Twitter, some observers have highlighted news organizations guilty of privileging GOP health care lies:

    And:

    Note that it wasn’t just Axios’ Twitter feed that failed. In its write-up of Ryan’s TV appearance, Axios simply regurgitated the Republican’s false claims about health care and provided readers with no context about how many central untruths he was peddling.

    Meanwhile, look at this feel-good New York Times headline that followed Ryan’s TV appearance and ask yourself, why would Republicans start telling the truth if lying produces headlines like this?

    House Health Care Bill Is ‘Us Keeping Our Promises,’ Paul Ryan Says

    And note how The Associated Press struggled while covering Secretary Price’s recent illogical claim that a proposed $880 billion cut in Medicaid funding to states over 10 years would actually help states provide better health care (emphasis added):

    CBO's analysis highlighted an $880 billion cut to Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled, which Price sought to cast as a way to give states more leeway to experiment with the program. The Obama-era law expanded Medicaid with extra payments to 31 states to cover more people. The House bill halts the expansion, in addition to cutting federal spending on the program.

    But Price insisted Sunday, "There are no cuts to the Medicaid program," adding that resources were being apportioned "in a way that allows states greater flexibility."

    Basically, Price was claiming up is down, and AP did its best to let him get away with it.

    According to the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed a previous version of the bill passed by the House, the $880 billion in Medicaid cuts would translate into 14 million people losing Medicaid coverage.

    After pressing Price during a recent interview on his central contradiction about Medicaid (i.e. big cuts make it better!), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell seemed a bit exasperated: “I think a lot of people wonder how taking more than $800 billion out of something is going to put more resources in it.”

    It was good that Mitchell compelled Price to answer, but how did NBC News then treat Price’s nonsensical Meet the Press appearance? It rewarded him by repeating his health care lies in a headline:  “HHS Sec. Tom Price: 'Nobody Will Be Worse Off Financially' Under GOP Health Plan.”

    And the lede of that article:

    No one will be adversely affected by the Republicans' new health care bill once it's enacted and more people would be covered, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

    Politico did something similar for comments from Ryan: “Ryan: GOP Health Care Bill Not Only Good Policy, But Good Politics.”

    For the GOP, that’s mission accomplished. And somewhere, Trump is smiling.

    The good news is there’s still plenty of time for reporters to accurately describe how Republicans are trying to sell health care via baldfaced lies.

    In Friday’s Washington Post, Dave Weigel did just that. He wrote a straightforward report about how Republicans, pressed at town hall meetings to defend the GOP’s bill, have unfurled “a series of flat misstatements and contradictions about what’s actually in the bill.”

    Today, Republicans are unapologetic about spreading health care fabrications. More journalists should simply document that fact.  

  • Right-Wing Media Dishonestly Claim Carter Page FISA Warrant Is Evidence Of Trump Wiretap Lie

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    The Washington Post reported that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to investigate Trump associate Carter Page during the summer of 2016. The warrant was legally obtained through the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court. Right-wing media outlets falsely claimed that the FBI investigation into Page is evidence that supports Donald Trump’s accusations that the Obama administration illegally wiretapped him, despite multiple intelligence experts and even GOP Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) calling Trump’s claim is false.

  • Media Praise Trump For Ordering Missile Attack On Syrian Airbase

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Media figures and pundits celebrated President Donald Trump’s “swift, decisive” order to destroy a Syrian airbase in retaliation for what is believed to be a chemical warfare attack against Syrian rebels that killed dozens of people, including children. Pundits praised Trump’s “readiness to act on instinct” and declared that Trump “made Americans proud.”

  • Right-Wing Media Misinterpret Weeks-Old Interview To Justify Trump’s Wiretap Lie

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Right-wing media figures and fringe outlets are taking a weeks-old interview with Evelyn Farkas, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia under President Barack Obama, out of context to claim she “admitted” that the Obama administration surveilled President Donald Trump’s campaign and that it proves Trump was right when he claimed Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. But Farkas did not mention surveillance in the interview; instead, she discussed a New York Times article about preserving intelligence related to Trump and Russia. The claims are yet another attempt by right-wing and fringe media to bolster Trump’s allegation that Obama wiretapped him, which the intelligence community and government officials have repeatedly debunked.

  • How Trump Manipulates Media Coverage Of His Immigration Policies

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Leading up to his joint address to Congress, media outlets helped President Donald Trump misleadingly cast himself as sympathetic to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, known as “Dreamers,” and other immigrants. Trump’s manipulation tactics became evident again when media outlets uncritically parroted his claim that he was open to comprehensive immigration reform hours before he gave his address, which demonized immigrants as criminals and falsely claimed that they are a drain on the economy. As the Trump White House once again steps up its efforts to misrepresent its immigration stance, it is important media not be spun again.

  • Faced With Trump's Media Blacklist, Broadcast Evening News Shows Roll Over

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    The broadcast network evening newscasts all referenced that the White House barred their colleagues at The New York Times, CNN, and other outlets from a briefing with press secretary Sean Spicer. But ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News neglected to mention that their representatives did not join the spontaneous boycott of the briefing started by the Associated Press, Time, and USA Today, and gave no indication that their networks will refuse to participate in any similarly restrictive briefing in the future. 

    The press "gaggle" called by Spicer that pointedly excluded the Times and CNN was another attempt by the White House to discredit these media outlets' recent and explosive reporting that the Trump administration has been pressuring the FBI to downplay the results of the investigation into possible illegal collusion between Russian officials and President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. 

    In the wake of the restricted briefing, several outlets -- including The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and McClatchy -- announced that they will not participate in future closed briefings. It is imperative that other media organizations join the boycott of the Trump administration's blacklist. As Media Matters' Angelo Carusone explained, outlets that participate in briefings while their colleagues are banned "lend legitimacy to a process that is fundamentally inconsistent with a free press."

    More than 320,000 people have signed Media Matters' petition urging members of the White House press corps to band together to stand up against Trump’s media blacklist and threats to punish journalists for accurate reporting.

    From ABC World News Tonight:

    From CBS Evening News:

    From NBC Nightly News:

  • Statement By Media Matters President Angelo Carusone On Trump Blacklisting Media Outlets

    Carusone: Outlets That Participate In Briefings While Outlets Are Banned "Lend Legitimacy To A Process That Is Fundamentally Inconsistent With A Free Press"

    Blog ››› ››› ANGELO CARUSONE

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone issued the following statement after the Trump White House banned members of the media from attending a briefing:

    Media Matters sounded the alarm about the clear and present danger Donald Trump presented to a free press. We told White House correspondents that Trump’s blacklist was only going to get worse over time if they didn’t act. And it wasn’t just us. More than 300,000 people signed a petition urging White House correspondents to stand up to Trump’s blacklist by refusing to participate if Trump banned one -- or more -- of their colleagues.

    Today’s actions underscore the importance of White House correspondents standing up to Trump’s blacklist. It's no coincidence that the outlets that have been at the forefront in breaking stories about Trump’s conflicts of interest and his associates’ ties to Russia were banned from today’s gaggle. Trump is trying to delegitimize and punish news outlets for practicing rigorous journalism while simultaneously giving their spots to pro-Trump propagandists.

    Outlets like Time and The Associated Press did the right thing in standing up to Trump’s blacklist by refusing to participate in the gaggle in solidarity with their banned colleagues.

    It’s unfortunate and damaging for the profession of journalism that ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, and Bloomberg chose to support Trump’s blacklist by attending the briefing. It may sound harsh to characterize their participation in the event as support, but that’s what it is. By participating, these outlets not only make it easier for Trump to continue blacklisting journalists, but they also lend legitimacy to a process that is fundamentally inconsistent with a free press.

    Over 320,000 individuals have signed Media Matters' petition calling for the White House press corps to stand up to Trump's blacklist.

  • NBC News Appoints An Iraq War Cheerleader As Its New President

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    As NBC News faces growing questions about moving to the right, the network’s chairman, Andrew Lack, announced that Noah Oppenheim, a Today show producer who was an outspoken supporter of the Iraq War and has a lengthy history with conservative media, will be the new president of NBC News.

    During 2003 and into 2004, Oppenheim was a pro-Iraq War pundit on MSNBC. On July 19, 2003, four months after the invasion, Oppenheim appeared on MSNBC Live to respond to a firestorm stemming from President George W. Bush’s false assertion in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraq’s supposed nuclear weapon capabilities. Oppenheim defended the Bush administration for misleading the public in order to make the case for war by saying that that intelligence business “is not an exact science” and you have to “make educated guesses.” Transcript via Nexis (emphasis added):

    LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: Noah Oppenheim, last week we talked about -- was that the worst week for the president after things have gotten so messy on the whole how did these 16 words get into the speech? Now, this week the story kept going. We've narrowed it down, to, you know, the suspects, of who got the words in there. It looks like it's the National Security Council people, which means it looks like it's Condi Rice. Is Condi Rice the next person to have to take the blame in this story?

    NOAH OPPENHEIM, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, I don't know if she's the next person to have to take the blame. But we are -- the whole country is getting a very useful lesson in how the intelligence business works. And it is not an exact science. It is a very inexact science. And we now all understand that when we are trying to predict what's going on in countries like Iraq, we make educated guesses, and that's exactly what happened here. The British made an educated guess about the way Saddam was trying to reconstitute his nuclear program. They actually stand by that educated guess. We now know that the line, how the line made it into the speech, we understand the consultations that go on between the National Security Council staff and the White House, the CIA. It seems like this line shouldn't have made it in. It's unfortunate that it did, but I have seen no evidence of any sort of egregious wrongdoing on anyone's parts, no malicious plotting, no conspiracy here to drag the country into war. You see the governing -- government functioning as it does, imperfectly at times.

    When asked, on the same program, about the plan for leaving Iraq, Oppenheim said that “no matter what happens,” Iraq “will be better than … before we came”:

    OPPENHEIM: I cannot give you an exact date. The exit plan is as we help the people of Iraq rebuild their country, like we help the people of Germany and Japan rebuild theirs after World War II. We put in place a government that represents the various groups in Iraq, and we hopefully nudge them toward a liberal democracy. But ultimately, we take off the training wheels and see what happens. And you know what? No matter what happens, it will be better than what they had before we came.

    MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell asked Oppenheim on the July 12, 2003, edition of MSNBC Live how many people would die in Iraq. Via Nexis:

    O'DONNELL: Noah, is it a decade, or is it less than a decade?

    OPPENHEIM: It is between one and five years, and I do not know how many people are going to die, but it may be in the hundreds, it may even be in the low thousands, but it will still be worth it.

    150,000 Iraqi civilians and over 4,600 members of coalition forces have died in Iraq as a result of the war.

    On August 23, 2003, Oppenheim told O’Donnell on MSNBC Live that the majority of Iraq was actually peaceful and predicted the country was “headed in a positive direction.” Via Nexis (emphasis added):

    O'DONNELL: Noah, what if he doesn't? What if Iraq continues along the path that's going now, with roughly the same number of disruptions and killings, and then what if the peace process in the Middle East stays off track where it is now? How do Bush's numbers look six months from now if everything keeps going the way it is in the Middle East?

    OPPENHEIM: Well, look, you've got to -- what direction is it going? If you read "The New York Times" today, which is not exactly President Bush's greatest cheerleader, they report about how the great majority of Iraq is actually quite peaceful and actually happy to have an American presence there. We have a problem in Baghdad. We have a problem in the predominantly Sunni areas in the center of the country and in parts of the northwest. But for the majority of the country, it is pretty calm and peaceful and actually headed in a positive direction.

    Now, with regard to the Mideast peace process, no president has ever been able to bring peace to the Israel and the Palestinians. If Bush is unsuccessful there, I don't think someone's going to say, you know what, John Kerry is going to be able to do it, but George Bush couldn't. I mean, that's outrageous.

    Oppenheim even admitted that he is a conservative, stating on MSNBC Live on June 26, 2003, that he agreed with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s concurrence in Lawrence v. Texas, stating, “Even as a conservative, I felt like it was a rightly decided case.” (via Nexis)

    Andrew Kirell, now of The Daily Beast, examined Oppenheim’s background when Today brought him back on board in 2015. As Kirell noted, Oppenheim’s stint as executive producer of the TV show Scarborough Country occurred when host Joe Scarborough was portraying a much more conservative figure than he has done recently.

    Oppenheim has also written multiple columns for the neoconservative outlet Weekly Standard. In an April 2001 column, he attacked civil rights activist Jesse Jackson’s activism as “shakedowns” and “an old-style protection racket,” complaining that “Jackson threatens boycotts and the stigma of being labeled racist by this country's most prominent black leader.” Five months after the 9/11 terror attacks, Oppenheim accused the American Muslim community of assuming a “see-no-evil posture” and lacking “resolve” to fight terrorism.

    Oppenheim’s most notable Weekly Standard column came in 2004, when he, as an outspoken “supporter” of the Iraq War, traveled to Baghdad and castigated war reporters in Iraq of not doing enough to cover the good stories. It is worth reading at length:

    Four weeks ago, MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews" asked me to go to Baghdad in search of the story most of the mainstream media were missing. The network's vice president knew I was a supporter of the war, and suggested I find out if things had really gone as horribly wrong as the evening newscasts and major print dailies reported. What I found is that, in Iraq, the mounting body count is heartbreaking, but the failure of American journalism is tragic.

    […]

    Along with freedom, America has brought to Iraq the notorious Red State-Blue State divide. Most journalists are Blue State people in outlook, and most of those administering the occupation are Red. Many of those who work for the Coalition, including civilians, carry guns. This either amuses journalists or makes them uncomfortable. Most of those who work for the Coalition are deeply invested, emotionally, in the success of America's enterprise in Iraq. (How else to explain why someone leaves an apartment in Arlington to live in a trailer in Baghdad and endure mortar attacks?) Most journalists did not support this war to begin with, and feel vindicated whenever the effort stumbles.

    Journalists will point out that they, too, are braving significant risks and discomfort to do their jobs. This is true, but would carry more weight if it seemed they were doing their jobs well. Instead, their sense of peril fuels a certain self-aggrandizement and sometimes a selfish myopia.

    […]

    To be fair, the [Coalition Provisional Authority] is not likely to win any awards in the field of public relations. I arrived in Baghdad explicitly sympathetic to its message. And I found its press officers friendly and easy to deal with. But there are only so many schools and police stations you can visit before you almost start wishing for a bang. The CPA is understandably proud of Iraq's rebuilt infrastructure. The water I saw gushing through new irrigation ditches throughout the Sunni triangle roars accomplishment.

    […]

    The best metaphor I've heard about Iraq is that the country is like a child, and the American press is its parent. When you're around a child every day, you don't notice how dramatically he's growing and maturing. But a more distant relative who sees the child only once a year is astounded by how much taller he keeps getting. Iraq is getting taller and healthier every day, but those responsible for documenting the growth are not noticing--or if they are, they're not telling the people back home.

    Oppenheim would leave his position at MSNBC after Steve Capus (now the executive producer of CBS Evening News) and anchor Tom Brokaw complained that his column did a disservice to journalists covering a war zone. Oppenheim, in the meantime, worked as a producer on the Today show and would later return to MSNBC in 2008 to work on David Gregory’s MSNBC show Road to the White House. When Oppenheim returned to MSNBC, New York Observer columnist Felix Gillette wrote of the move:

    A former NBC News staffer compared Mr. Oppenheim’s return to MSNBC—only four and a half years after seemingly burning some important bridges on his way out—as typical of a business where institutional memory can be fleeting.

    “TV is like politics,” said the source. “You can rehabilitate yourself very quickly because the game is always changing and so are the people.”

    Oppenheim’s selection as NBC president comes as increasing questions are arising about NBC News and MSNBC moving to the right. Beyond hiring Fox News hosts Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren, Scarborough has been cheering on and defending President Donald Trump. Just last week, MSNBC host Chris Matthews had an on-air meltdown in defense of Trump’s Muslim ban. Appointing an Iraq War media lapdog as the head of the entire division does nothing to distance NBC News from these accusations.

    Oppenheim replaces Deborah Turness, who became president of NBC News International. Turness, the first woman to be named president of NBC News, hired Oppenheim to take over the Today show in early 2015.

  • First Amendment Watch: January 2017

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks Trump and his team made against the media -- and instances in which they demonstrated disregard for the press -- from January 1, 2017, up to his January 20 inauguration as president.

  • Will Megyn Kelly Bring The Hate Group Leaders And Extremists Who Frequented Her Fox Show To NBC?

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    In her past role at Fox News, new NBC News hire Megyn Kelly has invited onto her show a number of extremists and hate group leaders who spread and espouse anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant views, statements, and lies. Will she continue her practice of hosting bigotry in her upcoming daytime news and Sunday evening programs?

  • The Media Keep Failing To Publish Accurate Headlines About Trump: An Updated List

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    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.

  • First Amendment Watch: December 2016

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks President-elect Donald Trump made against the media -- and instances in which he demonstrated disregard for the press -- during the month of December 2016.

  • NBC News Is Struggling To Report On Its Own Trump Problem

    NBC's Financial Relationship With The President-Elect Puts Its Reporters In An Impossible Situation

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    NBC and its parent company, Comcast/NBCUniversal, have put the network’s news division in an impossible situation by entering into a financial agreement with the next president of the United States. As NBC News reporters grapple with the announcement that President-elect Donald Trump will remain an executive producer on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, many aren't discussing the intolerable conflicts of interest this business arrangement poses to NBC. In this deal, NBC will have a fiduciary relationship with the president, making it financially invested in Trump’s reputation -- a situation that threatens to compromise the news division’s political reporting. The arrangement is now providing a case study in how conflicts of interest affect the quality and the integrity of reporting.

    Variety reported on December 8 that Trump will stay on as an executive producer of Celebrity Apprentice. As Media Matters pointed out, because of the business relationship, NBC is now financially invested in Trump's reputation and will have an incentive to weigh aggressive reporting about Trump across its news platforms against what the network mighty lose in revenue if Trump's reputation is damaged. The arrangement implicates NBC News, CNBC, and MSNBC.

    NBC News’ reports on the announcement have generally presented the conflict as a possible problem for Trump, but not for NBC -- and that’s when the network reports on the deal at all. NBC’s flagship Sunday political show, Meet the Press, failed to address the story entirely on the December 11 edition. Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, who also anchors the weekday program Meet the Press Daily, said on December 8 that Trump being “connected to The Apprentice is not news to the American public.” NBC correspondents Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander both characterized the deal as a conflict for Trump, while downplaying NBC’s own conflict. Welker noted that there is “new scrutiny of the president-elect's decision to stay on as executive producer of The Apprentice,” referring to the deal as “Trump’s business entanglements,” and adding, “NBC Entertainment declined to comment, noting MGM owns and produces the show.” Joe Kernen, host of CNBC’s Squawk Box, told a critic, “Don’t bring it to your conflict thing again.” MSNBC’s Ari Melber argued that Trump remaining an executive producer isn’t a conflict, “it’s just … weird,” and made a point of saying that “NBC Entertainment is a separate division of our company” from NBC News.

    MSNBC reporters have also tried to compare Trump’s deal with NBC to Obama receiving royalties for his books. But, as The Associated Press explained, Obama’s “books’ publishers are not financially tied to news divisions.”

    By contrast, other media outlets have noted NBC’s numerous conflicts in this arrangement. On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked incoming Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus: “The FCC regulates NBC corporate. Corporations could try to curry favor with the president by placing their products on the show, buying advertising. Isn't that an issue?” CNN’s Dylan Byers explained that the business relationship “presents a thorny situation for Comcast/NBCUniversal, which controls the [product integration] deals” that companies make with Celebrity Apprentice, which, according to Byers, often range from $5 million to $9 million. Trump personally profits from those deals, making NBC the middleman through which companies can “curry favor” with the president. And Fortune magazine noted that NBC was already criticized in October “for reportedly sitting on the Access Hollywood footage from 2005 that showed Trump boasting about committing sexual assault,” which the network reportedly withheld due to “fear of spurring yet another lawsuit from Trump.”

    Media and ethics experts have also pointed out the untenable situation NBC has created for itself. Marcy McGinnis, a former CBS News executive and journalism professor, called the arrangement “mind-boggling” and said it’s “a clear conflict of interest” to have a company “that has a news division …. covering the president of the United States” when he “has an interest in a show on that network.” Aly Colon, a journalism ethics expert, noted people’s desire to “believe in an independent news division not affected by business ties,” saying, “A lot of people find it difficult to believe there is a wall between news and entertainment.” And NPR’s David Folkenflik pointed out that, as president, Trump will be appointing the regulators tasked with scrutinizing the media, which NBC has an obvious interest in. Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert explained on MSNBC’s AM Joy that “No amount of disclosure is enough here. Is NBC for the next four years, every time they report on Trump, [going to] say, ‘By the way, our parent company has a financial relationship with Donald Trump’?” Boehlert also asked, "what if a company, in theory, says, 'Let's give The Apprentice $5 million and Trump could get a cut of that?' I mean, we're just paying off the president.”

    NBC cut ties with Trump last summer, declining to air his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants and stating that the network did not want to be associated with Trump because his bigoted statements had defied its core values. What’s unclear now is whether NBC believes Trump’s values have changed or whether the network believes such statements became acceptable with his election.

    Sign Media Matters’ petition telling NBC to dump Trump.