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The Press Needs Pressing After A Hard Presidential Season

All the press buzz is about the press itself lately. It’s no secret, the Fourth Estate didn’t bring its A-game to covering the 2016 presidential campaign.

The question preying on our minds is whether we did right by the American people in reporting home truths to them. Or did we get mired in the muck of the greatest reality show on earth? Did we get lost in the trees of Twitter, fake news and all that internet stuff? Maybe it’s a “post-truth” world, after all.

In our democracy, much depends on the answers. We like to think the First Amendment is first for a reason, that freedom of the press is indispensable to the America dreamt of by the framers of the Constitution — Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, all the bright white men in Philadelphia.

But here’s the thing: Broadcasting Donald Trump’s rallies and hate-mongering for hours of free airtime, unedited, may not be what they had in mind. Good for ratings, but in retrospect, wrong.

Duck if you can; there’s a lot of guilt and angst flying around Cambridge, Massachusetts, New York and down south to Washington, D.C. The usual rituals have unusual urgency.

At the Kalb Report at the National Press Club, host Marvin Kalb voiced the question of whether a Trump administration will crack down on press freedom. That’s not far-fetched, considering Trump’s open hostility to the media. Kalb, a journalism sage, remembers the good old days when candidates didn’t shout and hurl, “Corrupt!” or “Dishonest!” to the gaggle of reporters trying to do their job.

Trump’s blustering late-night tweets were a way to run around deadlines and the newsroom vetting process, to communicate directly and grow his base, letting loose insults and leaving claims and facts unchecked.

In fits, Trump ripped up the press paradigm of how to cover a presidential candidate. In his first political rodeo, with nothing to lose, he invented a new way to win — lobbing over our heads, always angry or gloating. At first, the press and the public found him more entertaining than others in the Republican field.

That raised a question for the presidential debate moderators, two of whom were Kalb’s guests, Martha Raddatz of ABC News and Chris Wallace of Fox News. Over the 90 minutes, if a candidate makes a false claim, should the moderator correct him or her? Millions of Americans are watching and making up their minds. The answer from Raddatz and Wallace was no, that’s not our job. Let the other candidate say so.

That’s old-school neutrality, but the game has changed so much that it’s time the press becomes more aggressive, too — in the moment, as it happens. We like to scrutinize events at our desks, stewing over coffee, but we have to change with the times, too.

As the president-elect appoints his cabinet, he is sending in the Marines to three major military or homeland security posts. That’s troublesome, but the nightly news is not going to say so. Newspapers have suffered financially over the last decade and some have even physically shrunk and seen their buildings blown up (the Miami Herald.) But it’s no time to be shy when we have a Caeser-like ruler riding into Rome who’d like to silence us into submission. And it’s time to fight back against the fake news “epidemic,” as Clinton said on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, issued a memo on media harassment and ended it: “Just do your job.” But the climate is changing — indoors and out. (In a glaring omission, the debates failed to discuss climate change.)

One thing’s for sure: If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, yet lost 2.5 million votes in the popular count, we’d never hear the end of the outrage on Fox, talk radio and on the Breitbart website. Am I “right?”

The cuts and blows to truth are still raw. Looking back at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where opposing campaigns met to debrief, Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s director of communications, declared, “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”

The late Senator Pat Moynihan wisely said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Clinton did her level best, and we played by press rules. But not all was fair in the public square.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit

IMAGE: A man hands a newspaper to a customer at a news stand in New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

‘Fair And Balanced’ Wallace Parroted Lies About Clinton Foundation

While many news organizations and websites checked the utterances of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in real time and after their final debate on Wednesday night — finding her more accurate than him by an order of magnitude — nobody checked moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News Channel.

That was unfortunate because despite his widely praised performance, Wallace badly needed fact checking (and perhaps a slap upside the head) concerning several of his pat assumptions — and most of all, a challenging assertion he made about the Clinton Foundation:

Secretary Clinton, during your 2009 Senate confirmation hearing, you promised to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest with your dealing with the Clinton Foundation while you were Secretary of State. But emails show that donors got special access to you, those seeking grants for Haiti relief were considered separately from non-donors, and some of those donors got contracts – government contracts, taxpayer money. Can you really say that you kept your pledge to that Senate committee and why isn’t what happened and what went on between you and the Clinton Foundation, why isn’t what Mr. Trump calls “pay to play”?

Nearly everything the Fox anchor said in framing that question was wrong.

There is no evidence that Clinton Foundation donors “got special access” to her at the State Department, as the debunking of the Associated Press “big story” on that subject proved. Nor is there any evidence that “donors seeking grants for Haiti were considered separately from non-donors.? And his claim that “some of those donors got contracts – government contracts, taxpayer money” is likewise damning but incorrect.

To understand the context for Wallace’s false charge, it is useful to know what Bill Clinton was doing in Haiti both before and after the 2010 earthquake, a story I recount in Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton. The short version is that in 2009, the United Nations asked him to serve as the Secretary-General’s special envoy to Haiti, an exceptionally poor country that had already suffered gravely from devastating hurricanes.

Immediately after the January 2010 earthquake, Clinton agreed to take on another post as co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, working with the Haitian government and international donors. (He did so against the advice of his top aides.) The Clinton Global Initiative was very active in Haiti by then as well.

So in the aftermath of the earthquake, it was not surprising that State Department officials who knew about his deep involvement in Haiti would pay close attention to his friends and associates, several of whom were already working on projects there. Those relationships are reflected in the emails that formed the basis of sensational false charges, spread by the Republican National Committee — and for Wallace’s question.

Contrary to the RNC press release, the notion that any Friend of Bill (or Hillary) got “taxpayer money” because they had donated to the Clinton Foundation is entirely untrue. When Mike Pence made the same accusations, using far more inflammatory language, both Politifact and investigated the claims — and both found Pence’s assertions to be false.

The truth is simpler and somewhat more uplifting: Several Clinton friends, mentioned in State Department email traffic, participated robustly in the post-earthquake relief effort. Among them was Denis O’Brien, a billionaire telecom entrepreneur whose contributions included $10 million to rebuild the iconic Iron Market in Port-au-Prince; another was Rolando Gonzalez Bunster, an executive who spent an untold amount to help restore electric power to the beleaguered island. Neither of them received a dime in “taxpayer money” and to date there is no evidence that any other Clinton friend or donor did, either.

So contrary to Mike Pence, there was no “pay to play” in Haiti. For Pence to lie about the Clinton Foundation is unsurprising; this was not the first time and it probably won’t be the last. He and his sources at the RNC perpetrated a vile slur on decent people who sought to help relieve human suffering.

Now Pence is clearly deficient in both conscience and intelligence. (So is the RNC leadership.) But Wallace should know better and do better. He ought to correct himself and apologize.

Meanwhile, the efforts of the Clinton Foundation, its allies, and the Clinton Global Intitiative’s Haiti Action Network will continue. Because that’s what they do.

Now, More Than Ever, Chris Wallace Is The Wrong Person To Moderate Final Debate

While Donald Trump’s campaign implodes under the weight of widespread allegations of sexual harassment and assault by the Republican presidential nominee, he continues to maintain his bunker-like media strategy of basically only talking to his allies at Fox News.

The strategy is unprecedented for a general election candidate. But bombarded with bad news on all sides, Trump opts to hide out. “By cloistering himself on Fox News, he mostly avoids difficult questions about the daily controversies that plague his campaign,” noted CNN’s Brian Stelter. (Trump’s last interview with either of Fox News’ main cable news rivals was August 25 on CNN; he hasn’t done a televised interview with any of the three broadcast networks since September 6.)

Trump also hasn’t held a press conference since July.

That means for Trump, the third and final presidential debate threatens rare exposure from his bubble strategy — in fact, it could represent the last time this election cycle Trump will face unfriendly questions. Except there’s a hitch: Fox News’ Chris Wallace is moderating the debate. The same Chris Wallace who announced he won’t fact-check the candidates during the forum. It’s a hands-off approach that Trump and his allies heartily endorse.

In other words, we have a potential mess unfolding. At the time when voters ought to be able hear a journalist press Trump about the avalanche of allegations from women who claim he’s groped and assaulted them, and at a time when Trump refuses to answer questions from most reporters, the final debate, at a distance, risks becoming another friendly venue for Trump, given Wallace’s past comments.

“I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad,” Wallace announced last month. “It’s up to the other person to catch them on that.”

That’s simply not acceptable in the age of Trump. According to the fact-checkers at PolitiFact, roughly 70 percent of Trump claims they assessed have been found to be “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire” lies. (Just four percent of the Trump assertions analyzed by the site have been found “true.”)

And at the second debate, despite the best efforts by moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, Trump simply could not, or would not, stop lying. From NBC News:

·  Trump said Clinton doesn’t know Russia hacked the DNC. U.S. intelligence has said they very likely did.

·  Trump said Clinton got a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl “off” his charges. She didn’t.

·  Trump said Clinton laughed at a child rape victim. She didn’t.

·  Trump said Clinton “viciously attacked” four women. This is largely unsubstantiated.

·  Trump said his 2005 recording didn’t describe sexual assault. It did.

·  Trump said Clinton’s campaign started the “birther” movement. She didn’t.

·  Trump said Clinton wants a single payer healthcare. She doesn’t.

·  Trump said the San Bernardino shooters’ neighbors saw bombs in their apartment. They didn’t.

Notably, it is only because of Cooper’s dogged questioning over the video of Trump bragging about commiting sexual assault that he was put on record denying he had ever committed that crime. Women have cited that public denial in coming forward to tell their stories about Trump this week.

Against the background of Trump’s rampant prevarications, Wallace is going to sit in the moderator’s chair and refuse to fact-check Trump. And Trump knows it. Talk about being unshackled.

It’s also problematic because immediately following the second debate, some media observers seemed to deduct points from Clinton for supposedly not delivering a sure and steady performance, without simultaneously acknowledging she was confronted with an unprecedented avalanche of lies. (Reminder: In the past, most presidential nominees tried to avoid telling blatant lies during nationally televised debates for fear of being fact-checked and having to explain the so-called ‘gaffe’ the next day. Trump doesn’t seem bothered in the slightest and just keeps telling more.)

Meanwhile, as Media Matters has documented, there are lots of other reasons why Wallace is the wrong pick. He was recently deriding Clinton’s demeanor after the first debate as being excessive [emphasis added]:

WALLACE: She was enjoying herself. Bob, you say that you were on the road this week in North Carolina. You talked to a lot of people, and that kind of, I think it’s fair to say, gloating didn’t set too well? 

BOB WOODWARD: Yeah. She won the debate. I think there’s universal agreement on that. I guess Trump would not agree. But she really did. But, you know, that clip shows this kind of self-congratulation, this self-satisfaction. And as we know and as we try to teach our children, when you win something, don’t gloat. Humility works. And the problem for her is this feeds the notion that she’s in this for herself. You see that. She was overjoyed with what she did. Fine, take a victory lap, but there is — something like that doesn’t get dialed back, and it probably should.

Talk about odd: The person who is going to moderate Wednesday’s debate went on national TV to criticize the winner of the previous debate for supposedly “gloating.”

Of course, also troubling is the fact that for two decades Wallace worked for Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who left the channel in disgrace amidst allegations of sexual harassment. Ailes has reportedly been advising Trump for debate preparation, while simultaneously advising Wallace’s ultimate boss, 21st Century Fox chief Rupert Murdoch.

Obviously, the issue of sexual harassment is going to come up at the debate. Wallace’s employer just went through a high-profile sexual harassment scandal where allegations were made that the cable channel is wildly hostile toward women. Will the Fox moderator really try to hold accountable the candidate who’s being coached by the moderator’s former boss and good friend?

This is how Wallace described Ailes this summer: “Roger Ailes is the best boss I’ve had in almost a half a century in journalism. I admired him tremendously professionally, and loved him personally.”

As Media Matters’ founder David Brock stated in a letter to the debate commission last month, “It is a glaring conflict of interest that Roger Ailes, who resigned from Fox News in July, simultaneously provides advice to Donald Trump while serving as a paid adviser to Fox News chief Rupert Murdoch—debate moderator Chris Wallace’s boss.”

Wallace’s selection as moderator has always been riddled with conflicts. The fact that Trump now essentially refuses to come out from behind the Fox News curtain, while serious allegations of Trump wrongdoing mount, makes Wallace’s moderator role even more problematic.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Clinton’s Ingenious Debate Strategy Lays Bare Trump’s Racism, Sexism and Venality

Published with permission from AlterNet

In the annals of feminism, Monday’s debate will rank with the epic tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King.

If there’s anything you want in a president of these United States, it’s the ability to execute a superior strategy against a foe who threatens to tear the nation apart. In Monday night’s historic presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York, Hillary Clinton demonstrated that when it comes to strategy, she has the stuff.

In the days leading up to the debate, no one doubted that Clinton’s command of policy far outstrips Donald Trump’s, or that her intellect is superior to his. But given the uneven playing field she would occupy on account of her gender, there were doubts as to whether she could win the debate without transgressing the standards for likability and loveliness required only of women candidates, while managing to appear presidential. She achieved all that and more by shaping the debate on her terms, and turning disadvantages to her favor. Would the male candidate be permitted to repeatedly interrupt her? Fine, let him. Just use his own vanity to unnerve him before the games even begin.

The debate hadn’t even commenced when Clinton landed her first blow. Greeting her opponent onstage before they set out to their respective podiums, Clinton said, “How are you, Donald?” Not “Mr. Trump.” (Everybody knows he hates to be called by his first name.) That may seem like a small thing, but with those four words, Clinton both attacked his sense of self-importance, and claimed her right to be treated as his equal. Once proceedings were underway, she called him only by his first name throughout.

It clearly irked him. In their first exchange, about jobs and trade deals, Trump referred to her as “Secretary Clinton,” and then turned to her and said, “Is that OK? Good. I want you to be very happy. It’s very important to me.” His aside came off as more petulant than respectful.

It was hardly the evening’s most memorable moment, but it was the one at which Trump lost the debate—the second at which he turned from the much-vaunted “teleprompter Trump” into reality-show Trump (otherwise known simply as Donald Trump). Early on in the debate, when moderator Lester Holt of NBC News asked Clinton to respond to Trump’s answer to a question about how he would bring jobs back to the U.S., Trump interrupted Clinton more than 20 times, as Holt stood haplessly by. It didn’t play well for Trump. Clinton kept her cool and pressed her point, punctuating the exchange with a zinger.

Steering her answer to the development of the creation of new clean-energy jobs, she said: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.” When Trump interrupted, claiming never to have said that (actually, he made that assertion in a tweet) Clinton responded, “I think science is real.”

Trump went nuts, badgering Clinton, trying to nail her on her apparent support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal while she was in the administration, trying to claim credit for her present position in opposition to the deal (when actually pressure from labor unions and Bernie Sanders’ supporters surely had more to do with her embrace of an anti-TPP position). In short, he came off looking like a jerk—on what perhaps was the one topic he on which he could have scored some points, if only he could have kept his ego in check. Instead, he continued to unravel.

She attacked him for “stiff[ing]” hundreds of working people in the bankruptcy proceedings he’s undergone for his various companies, citing working-class people, such as drapery-makers and dishwashers who lost income because of them, and noted that in the audience was an architect whose bill Trump had shorted. She noted his glee at the impending bursting of the housing bubble in 2006, despite the lost family wealth it meant for regular Americans. “It’s called business, by the way,” Trump interrupted.

Holt asked Trump why he wouldn’t release his tax returns, and in her rejoinder, Clinton noted that the several tax returns of Trump’s that were made public (because of a casino deal he was making) revealed he had paid no federal income tax.

“That’s smart,” he interrupted, again.

By the time Holt found his footing, in the second half of the debate, to ask difficult questions, Clinton had already thrown Trump so far off any kind of strategic game he may have had that he couldn’t even play the race card for his base from a strong hand. His response to a question about healing the racial divide was to call for the restoration of the stop-and-frisk policies of the past. That, in and of itself, was not a strategic mistake for him, given the base of resentful white people he has claimed for himself. But when Holt reminded him that New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy had been deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge, Trump refuted the fact.

Asked about his longstanding crusade perpetuating the false claim by right-wing activists that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, Trump attempted to lay the narrative in the hands of operatives of Clinton’s 2008 campaign. While sizable numbers of Republican voters may believe him, his assertion also left Clinton the opening to show how Trump sought to delegitimize the nation’s first black president.

Where Clinton likely made the strongest case with voters who may not yet be in her camp was in one of her final speeches of the debate, after Holt asked Trump what he meant when he claimed that his female opponent did not have “a presidential look.” He refused to elaborate on that, but then reiterate a claim he makes frequently questioning the former secretary of state’s stamina.

“Well, as soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina,” Clinton replied.

Then, after noting Trump’s pivot from the question regarding what he said of Clinton’s looks to a point about stamina, she recounted the insults Trump has hurled at women. “[T]his is a man who has called women pigs, slobs, and dogs,” she said. Then she recounted the story of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe (a beauty pageant Trump once owned), who claims that Trump called her “Miss Piggy” when she gained some weight, and disparaged her as a Latina by calling her “Miss Housekeeping.”

“Where did you find this?” Trump asked. But he didn’t deny it. Then he all but asked to be granted points for not saying something “extremely rough” he had planned to say about Clinton and her family.

Women who normally vote Republican may well be inspired to vote for Clinton by this exchange, and Machado’s story could help boost Latino turnout at the polls.

But there wasn’t much in the debate, aside from an early mention by Clinton of her plan for “debt-free college” that specifically targeted millennials, many of whom are enamored of third-party candidates.

Still, in the annals of feminism, Monday’s debate will rank with the epic tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. It remains to be seen whether it has moved the needle in what is presently a very close presidential contest.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks as Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens during their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking