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Tag: eric boehlert

The Kind And Gentle Man Who Confronted The Mainstream Media

I believe I spoke with Eric Boehlert, the penetrating observer and gadfly of American journalism who died last week in a tragic bicycle accident, only once, in 1996. As a young media critic for Salon, Boehlert phoned to interview me about my book Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.

Two things stood out about our conversation: Eric’s diligence—he’d actually read and thought about the book, a rarity—and his personal warmth. He’d done me the great favor of independently fact-checking a few of the book’s more counter-intuitive passages—such as the time a savings and loan “investigator” who’d peddled “Presidential Bitch” T-shirts out of her government office collapsed and was hospitalized during a Senate hearing after being confronted with proof she’d manufactured evidence.

“Mainstream” reporters deeply invested in the phony scandal somehow contrived to ignore the episode. Viewers of C-SPAN saw the whole thing. The New York Times, however, failed to notice.

Boehlert and I had stayed in touch by email ever since. Also partly, I suppose, by quoting each other’s work. I considered his Press Run website an invaluable resource.

Like my old friend James Fallows, I found Boehlert “a conscience and inspiration. He was fearless and absolutely unsparing in his writing about this era’s mainstream press. I am so sorry for him, and for his family, and for all of us to have lost his courage and voice.”

Everybody who knew Eric personally spoke of his kindness and generosity. A fine athlete, he coached kids’ baseball and basketball in his adopted hometown of Montclair, New Jersey.

On his MSNBC program, Chris Hayes played a characteristic video clip of Boehlert talking bluntly about the deleterious influence of Fox News on the body politic.

“Fox News is a closed society,” he pointed out. “They do not have people on the air who disagree with them. None of these people venture into the public square to have actual debate. So they lie without consequence, and they’ve done it for years and it’s just gotten more and more extreme. So they’re absolutely boxed in. But they don’t care, right? They know they can lie to their viewers. Their viewers expect to be lied to. This is the cushion that they’ve always had.”

Hayes ended a eulogy by saying: “I learned a lot from him and he is going to be deeply, deeply missed.”

Amen to that.

That said, calling out Fox News on MSNBC is pretty much preaching to the choir. Where Boehlert really excelled was in confronting the blind spots and herd-behavior of the so-called “mainstream” media.

Consider Boehlert’s final Press Run column, headlined “Why is the press rooting against Biden?” There his targets were CNN, the Washington Post, Meet the Press, and Axios.

Keying in on the Biden administration’s extraordinary success in job creation, Boehlert’s column implicitly asked, “What’s worse, that you’re out of a job, or that the price of gasoline has risen 25 cents per gallon?”

Put that way, the question answers itself.

So why were “mainstream” outlets virtually unanimous in burying last week’s blockbuster report of 400,000 new jobs in March? Sample headlines: “Booming Job Growth Is a Double-Edged Sword For Joe Biden” (CNN); “Biden Gets a Strong Jobs Report, But a Sour Mood Still Prevails” (Washington Post)

When it comes to the Biden economy, the glass is always half empty. On CNN particularly, you are not going to see any positive economic news without the next shot being of a gas pump, with a motorist in an SUV complaining how he can’t hardly afford to fill his tank. Ditto NBC and the rest.

“That’s why,” Boehlert wrote “according to a recent poll, 37 percent of Americans think the economy lost jobs over the last year, when it’s gained seven million. (Just 28 percent of people know jobs are up.)

“Virtually all the Beltway coverage today agrees on this central point: When it comes to the economy, Biden’s approval rating is taking a hit because Americans are freaked out by inflation. But maybe it’s taking a hit because Americans are under the false impression that jobs are disappearing. Voters don’t know what they don’t know because the press isn’t interested in telling them.”

Exactly why that’s so is hard to say. Maybe the Biden administration isn’t so good about blowing its own horn. Also, inflation affects everybody, while other people’s jobs directly affect only them, not necessarily you.

That said, Boehlert puts it bluntly: “Biden is facing not just one organized opposition in the form of the GOP, but another in the form of the Beltway press corps.”

Contrary to partisan mythology, it can definitely happen to Democratic presidents. In my experience, Beltway reporters lean not so much left or right, but pro-career. And as in the natural world, the safest place during a stampede is in the middle of the herd. Eric, however, followed his own lead.

Friends And Colleagues Mourn Admired Media Critic Eric Boehlert, 57

Eric Boehlert, the incisive and prodigious media analyst who became one of the most respected critics of right-wing disinformation and mainstream fecklessness, died on Monday evening in a tragic bicycle accident. He was struck by a commuter train while cycling in Montclair, New Jersey, where he lived with his wife Tracy Breslin and children Ben and Jane. He was 57 years old.

His dear friend, journalist and filmmaker Soledad O’Brien, announced his passing on Twitter, describing him as “a fierce and fearless defender of the truth,” and “an awesome human being, handsome/cool/witty dude who kicked ass on our behalf. Crazy devotion to facts, context, and good reporting, enemy of BS, fake news.” He was, she wrote, “Brutal to bad media on Twitter, sweetest guy in real life.” She was far from alone in that assessment.

To readers of The National Memo, Eric was a familiar and welcome byline whose writing appeared in these pages nearly from the beginning a decade ago. He was a former colleague of editor Joe Conason at Salon.com and a longtime friend.

“We were always thrilled to share Eric's articles,” said Conason, “first from Media Matters for America, later from Daily Kos – and over the past two years, he honored us by allowing frequent reprints from the PressRun site that he created in 2020.”

Kind and warm as well as astute, Eric was broadly admired despite the fact that he routinely published harsh judgments on the work of other outlets and reporters. He didn’t take himself too seriously but believed deeply that improving political media was crucial to the survival of a democratic society. He worked hard at that mission. And wherever he worked, he was loved for his humor, generosity, and friendship.

In the hours following his death, hundreds of tributes appeared on social media, where he had long been a powerful presence.

Media Matters, Salon, and Daily Kos issued moving statements recalling his contributions to their pages.


James Fallows, both a pathbreaking journalist and a penetrating critic of press myopia, explained why he will be missed. “I had met Eric only once in ‘real life. But I corresponded with him with increasing frequency over the years, especially this past year, and considered him a conscience and inspiration,” wrote Fallows on his own Substack. “He was fearless and absolutely unsparing in his writing about this era’s mainstream press.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted her appreciation of Eric, who began to exercise his independence from herd journalism when her husband was president.

Articulate and telegenic, Eric made many appearances on all kinds of media -- he was a popular guest on major television broadcasts but often lent his talents to far smaller independent media outlets. Among those who featured him most frequently was MSNBC's Joy-Ann Reid.


The Awful 9/11 Trump Stories The Sunday Shows All Ignored While Remembering 9/11

Published with permission from Media Matters for America.

Coinciding with the fifteenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, this week’s Sunday morning network talk shows dedicated a lot of their time to covering and reflecting on two stories: The 9/11 attacks, as well as the unfolding presidential campaign. If they had wanted to, the programs could have also examined the distinct overlap between those events. The shows could have spent time examining the unflattering examples of Donald Trump caught telling lies about Sept. 11, exaggerating about 9/11 and just being wildly inappropriate while discussing Sept. 11.

But the Sunday shows didn’t do that this week.

The Republican nominee lies about lots of things, but he seems to have a special proclivity for telling falsehoods about events surrounding America’s worst  terror attack.

What made the complete lack of Sunday show coverage this week even more unusual was the fact that one day before, the New York Daily News published an exclusive investigation, reporting that the billionaire’s organization pocketed $150,000 in government aid after the attack because it claimed to have helped out locals. But the “government program was designed to help local businesses get back on their feet — not reimburse people for their charitable work,” the News reported. Plus, “It’s unclear what, if any, help Trump provided to those affected by 9/11.”

So that represented a 9/11 Trump controversy with a fresh news angle. But the News story produced no coverage on the Sunday shows.

Do you think that if on Saturday the Daily News had reported that the Clinton Foundation had unethically scooped up funds intended for terror attack victims in New York City, that yesterday’s Sunday talks shows would have completely ignored the stunning revelation?

The other new story that emerged about Trump and Sept. 11 was when Politico recently reported on a television interview Trump did on that deadly day in 2001. It was just hours after thousands of New York area residents lost their lives in the attack, and Trump, on live television, was noting that the 40 Wall Street building he owned was no longer the “second-tallest” in downtown Manhattan — it was the “tallest” … because the Twin Towers had just been toppled by terrorist hijackers.

But not a mention of that on the Sunday shows.

This trend isn’t entirely new. Too often journalists have given Trump the benefit of the doubt when lying about 9/11-related events. Last December, when Trump began making the wholly unsubstantiated claim that the 9/11 attackers had “wives” living with them in the United States and sent them home prior to the attack, The New York Times reported Trump had become “fuzzy” about the facts and was “having trouble keeping some details straight about the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks.”

One key fact Trump had “trouble” with? “There is no evidence that the hijackers had wives in the United States, shipped them home or even told them of the plot in advance.” What’s “fuzzy” about that?

Again though, no mention on this week’s Sunday shows about Trump’s completely fabricated claims about the Sept. 11 hijackers and their “wives.”

There was also no discussion yesterday about Trump’s wild claim that he had lost “hundreds” of friends in the Sept. 11 attack.

As The Daily Beast previously documented:

Two days after Donald Trump claimed that he “lost hundreds of friends” at the World Trade Center as a result of the 9/11 attack, his campaign continued to ignore a Daily Beast request that he name even one.

With silence comes the possibility that Trump told the most reprehensible lie of the campaign, just a few breaths from when he called both Sen. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush liars.

By his math, Trump is trying to tell us that at least one in 10 of the 2,983 who died on 9/11 were his friends.

The Daily Beast also highlighted how, in the wake of the terror attacks, Trump reportedly went on Howard Stern’s radio show and promised to donate $10,000 to the Twin Towers Fund, a charity set up to benefit the families of first responders who were killed on 9/11. “Despite his pledge, the Trump Foundation shows no donations at all to the Twin Tower Fund,” the Daily Beast reported.

Meanwhile, at a rally in Ohio last November, Trump told supporters, “I have a window in my apartment that specifically was aimed at the World Trade Center because of the beauty of the whole downtown Manhattan and I watched as people jumped.”

As the Associated Press noted, Trump’s apartment is located approximately four miles from the World Trade Center site.

Trump has also claimed that he “helped a little bit” with clearing rubble after the attacks:

And of course, what was one of the most famous Trump lies of 2015? That he’d seen “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City when the Twin Towers went down.

But it wasn’t true, obviously. If “thousands and thousands” of people had cheered in the streets and on the rooftops of an American city on 9/11, that would have been news around the world. But it never happened, as NJ.com concluded, noting “The reason Trump’s comments are so offensive is that he is suggesting sympathy for terrorism is broadly shared among Muslims in America when in fact it is a fringe sentiment. It is the moral equivalent of smearing all white Americans for the actions of violent white supremacists.”

Indeed, the Trump lie represents a particularly vicious smear meant to malign an entire culture and religion; to make it seem like there’s a dangerous fifth column within the United States ready to rise up and wage war with America.

Over the last year, Trump has created a cacophony of lies and self-aggrandizing falsehoods about one of the most important and sorrowful days in American history. (Who does that?)

Still, on the fifteenth anniversary of Sept. 11 and with Trump at the center of a presidential campaign, the Sunday talk shows this week turned away from the Trump ugliness.

Trump’s Dangerous Embrace Of Right-Wing Media Insurrectionism

Published with permission from Media Matters of America

For anyone stunned by Donald Trump’s apparent suggestion yesterday that “Second Amendment people” could prevent Hillary Clinton from appointing justices to the Supreme Court — a remark widely interpreted as a veiled threat of political violence — keep in mind that vigilante, insurrectionist rhetoric has become a cornerstone of the conservative movement and right-wing media in recent years.

Not content to portray President Obama as misguided or wrong on the facts during his eight years in office, troubled portions of the far-right press embraced openly violent rhetoric to condemn the president of the United States. Especially hysterical regarding the topic of guns — which was the topic that prompted Trump’s startling statement yesterday — the far-right media have in recent years helped mainstream a type of violent rhetoric once considered to be outside the norms of American politics.

Trump’s apparent embrace of that dark, dangerous side was on display on Tuesday when he said that if Clinton “gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people maybe there is, I don’t know.” (Trump and his campaign have since tried to claim that he meant NRA types would rally behind his candidacy and vote against Clinton in the election.)

Following up his repeated claim that November’s election might be “rigged” to ensure a Democratic victory, Trump has layered onto that dangerous fantasy the idea of insurrectionism following Clinton’s inauguration.

Longtime Trump adviser and guttural media player Roger Stone has been outspoken about the looming uprising if Trump loses. Stone recently appeared on a fringe-right radio show and warned about the massive tumult that would occur if Trump loses the election:

“He needs to say for example, today would be a perfect example: ‘I am leading in Florida. The polls all show it. If I lose Florida, we will know that there’s voter fraud. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.’”

“If you can’t have an honest election, nothing else counts,” he continued. “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath. The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it. We will not stand for it.”

Stone himself has a long history of making insanely incendiary comments. In July 2014, Stone tweeted that Hillary Clinton should be “tried” and “executed for murder.” He tweeted that Sen. Bernie Sanders should be “arrested for treason and shot,” and that philanthropist and businessman George Soros should be “executed.”

Just this week, Stone went on Twitter and suggested the Clintons were responsible for the recent deaths of four people. So no, Trump’s “Second Amendment people” comment did not spring from a vacuum.

Trump’s campaign and his media allies are increasingly embracing the dead-end view of right-wing politics where violence is justified to right a perceived wrong; where violent political action might need to be taken by private citizens to curb a dangerously powerful federal government.

Sadly, this kind of irresponsible, doomsday chatter isn’t new. The sewer runs quite deep, Trump’s simply riding the currents. But having a presidential candidate who will give it credence is new and alarming.

As the rampant anti-government rhetoric of the tea party movement swelled in 2009 and 2010, and activists marched around with Swastika posters, brandished guns, and gave speeches about the need to wage bloody war against the federal government, one Newsmax columnist determined that a military coup “to resolve the ‘Obama problem'” was not “unrealistic.” (Newsmax later pulled the column.) Meanwhile, Glenn Beck landed a show on Fox News and gamed out bloody scenarios for the then-looming civil war against the Obama-led tyranny. (Beck later insisted Obama might throw his political opponents into internment camps.)

A Breitbart.com writer branded Obama “suicide-bomber-in-chief.” Rush Limbaugh announced, “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate.” And appearing on Fox News, Dick Morris essentially endorsedarmed insurrectionism against law enforcement: “Those crazies in Montana who say, ‘We’re going to kill ATF agents because the UN’s going to take over’ — well, they’re beginning to have a case.”

Years later, amid Obama urging new gun safety legislation in the wake of the school gun massacre in Newtown, CT, Fox’s Todd Starnes warned there would “a revolution” if the government tries to “confiscate our guns.” Fox News’ Pat Caddell claimed the country was in a “pre-revolutionary condition,” and “on the verge of an explosion,” while Arthur Herman declared on FoxNews.com that the U.S. is “one step closer” to a looming “civil war.”

Trump himself responded to Obama’s re-election by sending out (and later deleting) two tweets invoking the need for a “revolution,” including saying, “He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!” (Obama actually won the popular vote by nearly five million votes.)

Trump’s favorite professional conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, warned that year, “Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns, Mao took the guns, Fidel Castro took the guns, Hugo Chavez took the guns! … And I am here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!”

That reactionary mindset has been embraced by Trump’s fervent followers, who chant “Lock her up” at rallies, and much worse. (“Hang the bitch!”) Al Baldasaro, an adviser to the Trump campaign for veterans issues, announced that Clinton “should be shot” for treason. And West Virginia lawmaker Michael Folk agreed, suggesting Clinton should be “hung on the mall in Washington, DC.”

The doomsday, Armageddon rhetoric about Democratic criminality and the party’s supposed traitorous desire to tear down America carries with it an implicit suggestion to aggrieved listeners and viewers.

Back when Beck first started broadcasting this brand of insurrectionist rhetoric on Fox News, Jeffrey Jones, a professor of media and politics at Old Dominion University, explained the significance: “People hear their values are under attack and they get worried. It becomes an opportunity for them to stand up and do something.”

Now we have a wildly irresponsible presidential candidate who has adopted that same dangerous rhetoric and is sending the same ominous message: Do something.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures while delivering a speech at the Alumisourse Building in Monessen, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 28, 2016.

The Death Of ‘Both Sides’ Campaign Coverage

Published with permission from Media Matters for America.

It was buried near the bottom of yet another energetic Ron Fournier denunciation of Hillary Clinton’s character, but close readers of his recent Atlantic column might have been surprised by this passage [emphasis added]:

And yet, in my mind, the case against Clinton is not as disturbing as Trump’s mendacity, megalomania, intolerance, and intellectual slovenliness. With Clinton and Trump, the two most unpopular presidential candidates in the modern era, there is no equivalence.

That’s right, Fournier, a champion of the persistent Both Sides brand of political commentary, which revolves around the core belief that Democrats and Republicans are always equally to blame, set aside two sentences to specifically announce that whatever Clinton’s shortcomings, there was no comparison between her political sins and those of Donald Trump.

A small victory.

Both Sides reporting and commentary has represented a constant journalism failing for years, and it’s always been especially bad in political journalism. But is it possible that Trump is killing off false equivalency journalism? Is it possible that in recent days and weeks, Trump’s campaign has become such an inferno of incompetence that it’s just not possible for the press to look at the GOP campaign wreckage on display and suggest Democrats are facing a similar type of blaze; that both sides are in disarray?

And has Trump’s divisive and hateful rhetoric leaped so far out of the mainstream that pundits and reporters just aren’t able to draw a false equivalency connection to Clinton? They simply cannot claim she’s an equally divisive, hateful and controversial figure?

That may be one of the unintended, but welcomed, consequences of Trump’s extraordinary campaign run in recent days.

Can anyone recall a single 7-10 day stretch quite like the last one in terms of the sheer number of monumental unforced errors made by a single presidential candidate? Trump in the span of about a week racked up more memorable miscues than most losing candidates tally in six or 12 months.

Among the lowlights that have Republicans scurrying:

*Trump attacked a Gold Star family whose son was killed in the Iraq War.

*Trump wouldn’t commit to endorsing Rep. Paul Ryan or Sen. John McCain (he eventually endorsed themduring a Friday night event).

*Trump suggested women who were sexually harassed at work should go work somewhere else.

*Trump offered baffling remarks regarding Russia’s annexation of Crimea.                       

*Trump invited Russia to interfere in an American presidential election.

*Trump announced the 2016 election would probably be “rigged.”

*Trump implied the presidential debate process was also rigged.

*Trump claimed Clinton was a “founder” of ISIS.

Meanwhile, prominent Trump surrogates appeared on television and suggested President Obama might not have been an American citizen when he attended Harvard Law School, and that Clinton and Obama were responsible for the death of Capt. Humayun Khan. (The latter attack was later walked back.)

Observers on each side of the political aisle can’t stop shaking their heads at the spectacle. Already known for his erratic, eccentric behavior, Trump has shifted into fifth gear and left all semblance of normalcy behind. And with it, he’s badly damaged the Both Sides approach.

The long-running practice really has been weighing down journalism. President Obama himself reportedly points to the pattern of false equivalency as one of the key media failures during his presidency.

The problem? As Media Matters’ Jamison Foser explained several years ago:

There’s a tendency to think that saying “both sides do it” is the way to avoid taking sides in a dispute…..But when saying “both sides do it” requires drawing a false equivalence, the speaker is taking sides — on behalf of the people responsible for the greater sin. A journalist’s imperative is telling the truth, not creating the false impression of neutrality by equating unequal things.

Whatever the cause, Both Sides journalism does a disservice to news consumers who are looking for clear, concise information and analysis about current events, and especially presidential campaigns.

Here’s a good example of the problematic approach, from a New York Times tweet back in May:

See? Both Sides are in a “race to the bottom.” Hillary Clinton — a former first lady, United States senator, and secretary of state — is just like Donald Trump, and they’re both equally objectionable, seemed to be the message.

But again, I think there’s been a clear shift in recent days and weeks. There’s been a general, albeit belated, media realization that the Trump campaign is like no other, and that his allergic reaction to factual discussions is unprecedented. Therefore, Both Sides doesn’t work, and Trump cannot be covered based on the idea that he’s a GOP mirror image of the Democratic candidate, with the underlying assumption being they’re similar, minus some adjustments around the edges.

“[T]he idea that they are even in the same league is preposterous,” wrote The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof over the weekend. “If deception were a sport, Trump would be the Olympic gold medalist; Clinton would be an honorable mention at her local Y.”

That’s why we’re seeing news channels use their on-screen graphics to instantly fact-check Trump.

We’ve never seen this practice before because we’ve never seen a major party nominee who willfully lies day after day on the campaign trail at the rate Trump does, even after those lies are dutifully debunked.

For the most part, there’s been little attempt to frame the recent Trump meltdown with Both Sides language. There’s been very little attempt to frame the past few days as bad news for Trump while also kind of bad news for Clinton.

Instead, the campaign press has been quite vivid and clear in its language regarding the purely Republican implosion.

And no, that’s not piling on. That’s not being “biased.” It’s being factual and accurate.

For the record, I’m completely aware that Both Sides journalism could return, and it might even storm back during this campaign cycle. But it’s worth noting that there’s currently something of a moratorium on the unpleasant newsroom trend.

Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Conservative Media Struggles To Defend Trump And His Widening University Scam Scandal

Published with permission from Media Matters for America

What good is having a right-wing echo chamber if it’s not cranked up and blaring out a disciplined message during the presidential campaign? The conservative movement continues to grapple with that propaganda question in the wake of Donald Trump clinching the nomination, which has created deep fissures within the right-wing media and its historically united front.

For decades, conservatives have taken pride in their media bubble that not only keeps Republican fans selectively informed about breaking news, but also bashes away at all political foes. In full-fledged campaign mode, the right-wing media can effectively serve as a battering ram that Republicans use to attack their enemies or fend off in-coming volleys.

But Trump has scrambled that long-held equation. Embracing positions that often fall outside the orthodoxy of modern-day conservatism, while simultaneously rolling out non-stop insults, Trump has presented conservative pundits with a monumental headache: How do you defend a creation like Trump? Or as one National ReviewTrump headline lamented last month, “What’s a Conservative to Do?”

That riddle is especially tricky when Trump puts would-be allies in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the truly indefensible, like the widening scandal surrounding Trump University, the presumptive nominee’s former real estate seminar business. Over the years the dubious venture has been the subject of several ongoing fraud investigations and lawsuits, including one by the state of New York on behalf of 5,000 alleged victims.

“It’s fraud. … straight-up fraud,” the state’s Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reiterated during an MSNBC interview last week after a judge unsealed court documents from one of the Trump U. lawsuits and allowed for a more detailed look into the allegations of deceit.

The strange part? Some key conservative voices agree with the Democrat’s legal assessment. That’s why back in February, a National Review writer denounced the Trump seminars as “a massive scam.” And last month,The Weekly Standard warned that Trump U. represented a “political time bomb” that could doom the candidate’s November chances: “Democrats will see to that.” (Both magazines have opposed Trump for months and have pointed to Trump U. as a reason for their opposition.)

That’s what’s so startling about watching the conservative media this campaign season: It’s been completely knocked off its game. Known for its regimented messaging and willingness to almost robotically defend any Republican front-runner and nominee, Trump is finding only a smattering of defenders when it comes to damning allegations about his scam seminars.

And when Trump recently escalated the Trump U. story by attacking Judge Gonzalo Curiel and insisted he couldn’t be impartial because of his “Mexican heritage,” the presumptive nominee found himself even furtherisolated within the conservative movement. (The Wall Street Journal editorial page called Trump’s judiciary attack “offensive” and “truly odious”; Bill O’Reilly did defend Trump last night.)

As for the scamming allegations, even for members of the conservative media who are willing to try to assist Trump, there’s very little to grab on to in terms of defending the scandal-plagued Trump U. Based on mountains of allegations and complaints from angry students — students with no partisan political ax to grind — all indications point to a widespread fraud operating under Trump’s name and one that bilked victims out of millions of dollars.

As The Atlantic noted after reviewing previously secret training materials for Trump U., “the playbook focuses on the seminars’ real purpose: to browbeat attendees into purchasing expensive Trump University course packages.” According to an affidavit from former student Richard Hewson, he and his wife “concluded that we had paid over $20,000 for nothing, based on our belief in Donald Trump and the promises made at the free seminar and three-day workshop.”

The con appeared to touch every aspect of the real estate selling events. Instead of getting an implied, in-person meeting with Trump at one three-day seminar, some attendees were allowed to take their picture with a cardboard cutout of him. That’s one reason Schneiderman dubbed the whole program an “elaborate bait-and-switch” scheme. (Trump’s personal, immersed involvement was a key selling point.)

Still, some loyal conservative have tried to explain away the allegations. Last week on Fox, Tucker Carlson tried to downplay the damage by wondering if Trump U. was a “scam” the same way Princeton is a “scam.” Over atOutnumbered, co-host Jedediah Bila asked if Trump U.’s allegedly fraudulent practices weren’t just good “aggressive sales tactics.” She added, “I mean when the public hears this story, I’m wondering do they just see this as non-story?”

Bila’s co-host Melissa Francis also didn’t see what the big deal was: “You know, it goes to the story of him as an aggressive businessperson who wanted to sort of profit at all costs which is kind of what business is all about.”

And former Republican candidate Ben Carson assured Sean Hannity that, “I recently talked to a physician who went to Trump University, and this man is very wealthy, but he’s not wealthy from being a physician. He’s wealthy from what he learned at Trump University and learning how to do investments.”

Note that many of Trump’s other friends at Fox have been a bit more suspect on the matter. “Trump has a simple assignment, find five people who are graduates who are willing to go on TV and say, you know, my life was improved, my income went up, it was a good experience,” announced Newt Gingrich on Sean Hannity’s show, rather than categorically defending the dubious seminars. (To date, Trump has struggled to produce a multitude of satisfied graduates.)

Conservative talk show host Larry Elder also appeared on Hannity’s show last week to discuss Trump U. andinsisted that while it was a “minor issue,” nonetheless “Trump should have settled this a long time ago.”

Even Trump’s fiercest media defender, Breitbart.com, has taken a timid approach to the Trump U. fraud story, with the site refusing to offer up a full-throated defense of the alleged scam.

The ferocious conservative echo chamber isn’t built for nuance and it’s not designed for internal debate. But by sparking so much general dissention and by putting conservatives in the position of having to defend something as noxious as Trump U., the nominee is helping to mute the right-wing media voice this campaign season.

It’s Time For Reporters To Break Out Of The Trump Rally Press Pens

This post originally appeared on Media Matters

Is the only thing more shocking than Donald Trump’s campaign manager being charged with simple battery of a reporter the fact that the crime isn’t all that startling, given the bullying campaign’s open contempt for reporters?

Enough is enough.

With Trump’s top aide, Corey Lewandowski, now facing charges, focus has shifted back to the increasingly abusive relationship between the GOP front-runner and the campaign press, and the unprecedented barrage of attacks journalists have faced, including constant insults hurled at them by the candidate himself. (Reporters are “disgusting” “horrible people,” Trump regularly announces.)

Sadly, news organizations have brought some of the degradation on themselves by acquiescing to all kinds of Trump campaign demands, such as the rule that they camp out inside mandatory press pens at events. Basically, the Trump campaign disparages the media, and news organizations do nothing in response — except shower him with even more coverage. (Talk about a win-win for him.)

“For ratings and clicks, they’ve allowed themselves to be penned up like farm animals at his rallies and risked scuffles with the Secret Service for covering the events like actual reporters, ” wrote Eliana Johnson at National Review.

In fact, the press pens have become a hallmark of Trump’s war on the press.

“Unlike other presidential campaigns, which generally allow reporters and photographers to move around at events, Trump has a strict policy requiring reporters and cameramen to stay inside a gated area, which the candidate often singles out for ridicule during his speeches,” Time reported.

And Time should know.

In February, a Secret Service agent lifted Time photographer Chris Morris up off the ground and choke-slammed him onto a table after Morris momentarily “stepped out of the press pen to photograph a Black Lives Matter protest that interrupted the speech.”

It’s long past time for journalists to demand their freedom from Trump press pens. It’s like deciding to finally stop taking Trump’s phone-in interviews. Escaping from the pens represents a simple way for news organizations to assert their obvious right to cover the Trump campaign on their own terms, rather than being penned in at campaign events and living in fear of having access denied if coverage is deemed to be too critical.

Covering the Trump campaign on a daily basis today appears to be a rather miserable media existence. Reporters are threatened by staffers, and the Trump communications team seems to be utterly nonresponsive to media inquiries. (“There is no Trump press operation,” one reporter told Slate.)

But it’s even worse than that. Just ask CBS News reporter Sopan Deb. In January at a Trump rally in Reno, a Trump supporter demanded to know if Deb was taking pictures on behalf of ISIS. Then, in March, after Trump’s raucous would-be rally in Chicago was canceled, Deb was covering mayhem unfolding on the streets when he was “thrown to the ground by Chicago cops, handcuffed, arrested, and detained in jail.”

I give journalists on the Trump beat credit for trying to make the best of a very bad situation. My question is why aren’t bosses standing up more forcefully for their staffers on the Trump front line? Why aren’t executives saying “enough” to the campaign bullying? And why don’t they take collective action and fix the obvious problems with how the Trump campaign is mistreating the press?

In case you missed it, last year 17 journalists representing scores of news organizations met for two hours in Washington, D.C., because they were so angry with how Hillary Clinton’s campaign was limiting access for journalists.

“The problems discussed were the campaign’s failure to provide adequate notice prior to events, the lack of a clear standard for whether fundraisers are open or closed press and the reflexive tendency to opt to speak anonymously,” The Huffington Post reported.

Looking back, the press’s Clinton complaints seem minor compared to the disrespect and invective the Trump campaign rains down on the press. But at the time, news organizations banded together and insisted that changes be made. (“The Clinton campaign is far less hostile to reporters than Donald Trump’s campaign,” The Huffington Post recently noted.)

So why the relative silence in light of the constant Trump mistreatment of the press? Why did news outlets quickly marshal their forces when Democrat Clinton was the target of criticism, but they apparently do very little when the Republican front-runner is trampling all over the press? Why the obvious double standard for covering Trump and Clinton?

Note that last November, several news organizations discussed their concerns with the Trump campaign. “Representatives from five networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN — discussed their concerns about the Trump campaign restrictions on a Monday conference call, but did not present the campaign with any specific access requests,” according to The Huffington Post.

But very little came of it. “Facing the risk of losing their credentialed access to Trump’s events, the networks capitulated,” BuzzFeed reported.

Indeed, in the wake of that meeting, press pens at Trump rallies have recently become even more restrictive, with longer avenues of exit and entries created to separate journalists even further from rally attendees.

More recently, BuzzFeed reported, “Two network sources also confirmed the unprecedented control the television networks have surrendered to Trump in a series of private negotiations, allowing him to dictate specific details about placement of cameras at his event, to ensure coverage consists primarily of a single shot of his face.”

So yes, news organizations have had behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Trump campaign. But the result has been to let Trump “dictate specific details about place of cameras at his event.”

Just amazing.

And note that it’s not just the press pens. Here’s a list of the news organizations that have had reporters banned from previous Trump events, presumably because the campaign didn’t like the news coverage: The Des Moines Register, Fusion, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, Politico, The Huffington Post, National Review, The Daily Beast, and Univision.

Over and over we’ve seen this pattern play out: Report something negative about Trump and watch your press credentials get yanked. This kind of bullying, of course, is unprecedented for American presidential campaigns. The tactic goes against every principle of a free press, inhibiting the news media’s unique role in our democracy to inform the public, without fear or favor.

Yet to date, I’m not aware of outlets banding together to make concrete ultimatums in response to the Trump campaign’s bullying. Instead of collective action, we get sporadic, nonbinding complaints from editors.

But what kind of signal does that send, other than capitulation?

Campaign Press Adopts The Trump Rules — They’re The Opposite Of The Clinton Rules

This piece was originally published on Media Matters.

For now, Trump is generally considered a unicorn — a candidate who gets away with things no one else could.” Washington Post, February 22.

Switching back and forth between MSNBC and CNN last Thursday night as they aired competing, hour-long interviews with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, viewers ran the risk of whiplash. The threat lingered not just because Clinton and Trump were on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but because the tone and tenor of the two events seemed dramatically different.

Here were some of the questions posed to Clinton from the MSNBC event’s co-moderators, NBC’s Chuck Todd and Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart:

  • “What would you do to make possible that the [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival] students become permanent residents?”
  • “Would you ever imagine raising the retirement age in the next 10 years?”
  • “Do you foresee a time when the federal government would be able to include the undocumented [workers] in federal grants for education?”
  • “Should people start paying Social Security taxes on income over $120,000?”
  • “Is a presidential visit [to Cuba] a step too far? Would a President Clinton be going this quickly?”

By contrast, here were some of the questions posed to Trump from the CNN moderator, Anderson Cooper:

  • “What do you eat when you roll up at a McDonald’s, what does – what does Donald Trump order?”
  • “What’s your favorite kind of music?”
  • “How many hours a night do you sleep?”
  • “What kind of a parent are you?”
  • “What is one thing you wish you didn’t do?”

Obviously, those questions don’t reflect everything asked over the 60-minute programs. And I’m not suggesting Trump didn’t get any policy questions during his CNN sit-down. But the vibe from MSNBC’s Clinton event was definitely, Midterm Cram Session, while the vibe from CNN’s Trump event leaned towards, People Magazine Wants To Know. (One week later, Clinton sat for a CNN town hall where she did not receive any of the light, lifestyle questions that were asked to Trump.)

In a way, the interviews nicely captured the unfolding guidelines for the 2016 campaign season. With both Clinton and Trump enjoying big election wins last weekend and now apparently with inside tracks to their party’s nomination, we’re beginning to see signs about what the press coverage of a Clinton vs. Trump general election might look like.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have been in the public spotlight so long, and have been sparring with the Beltway press for so many years, that so-called Clinton Rules have been established. They outline the informal guidelines media follow when covering the Clintons.

The one-word distillation of the Clinton Rules? Negativity. Likely followed by distrust, snark, and condescension. Simple facts are considered optional and the Clintons are always, always held to a different,tougher standard than everyone else.

By contrast, Trump has only been in the campaign spotlight for eight months but I’d suggest the media’s Trump Rules have already come into focus: Intimidation, aggrandizement, and a lack of curiosity.

In other words, when you fly above the campaign season with a bird’s eye view, it seems inescapable that the press is being soft on the Republican, while at the same being hard on the Democrat.

Have reporters and pundits given Trump a complete pass? Absolutely not. (See more below.) Just as with the Clinton Rules, there are always exceptions to the coverage. But in terms of a vibe and a feel, it’s hard to claim that Trump is getting hit with the same relentlessly caustic (she’s doomed!) coverage that follows Clinton around everywhere she goes.

Can anyone even imagine what the relentless, almost hysterical, press coverage would look like if Clinton rallies were marred by violence, and if she denounced campaign reporters as disgusting liars? So far, neither of those phenomena from the Trump campaign have sparked crisis coverage from the press.

Some journalists are starting to concede the Trump Rules are in effect. The Washington Post just dubbed Trump a “unicorn” because he gets away with things no other candidate does. On Twitter, BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith suggested “there’s obviously been a trade, mostly on TV, of laying off his dishonesty and bigotry on exchange for access.”

Pulitizer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin bemoaned the hands-off vetting of Trump:

Do we know, at this point, about his modus operandi in business? Do we know how he treated his staff? Do we know what kind of leader he was when he was building his business? I mean, I don’t know the answers to these things. All I know is that, when I see him now, it’s like his past is not being used by the media to tell us who the guy really is.

And neither do I.

For instance, I don’t know much about Trump’s finances. Clinton last year released eight years of tax returns but Trump won’t yet give a firm answer regarding if and when he’ll do the same. So why hasn’t that been a pressing media pursuit?

Last week, veteran Time political scribe Joe Klein also teed off on his colleagues, while appearing on MSNBC’sLast Word With Lawrence O’Donnell:

It’s the most — probably the most embarrassing coverage of a candidate that I’ve seen in my 11-God-help-me presidential campaigns. First of all, we’re aggrandizing him like crazy because he boosts ratings. Second of all, we’re not doing our job.

Days later, leaked audio from MSNBC’s infamous Trump town hall event seemed to confirm a central claim that excessive Trump coverage — and usually the fawning variety — is good for business and good for media careers. During a commercial break after Mika Brzezinski thanked Trump for participating in the town hall event, Trump said, “I’m doing this because you get great ratings and a raise — me, I get nothing.”

They don’t teach that at journalism school.

Note that the strange part of the larger Trump Rules phenomenon is that the candidate mouths so much constant nonsense on the campaign trail, you’d think he’d dread going on TV and answering pointed questions about his bullying campaign. But it’s quite the opposite. Because even when journalists raise thorny topics with him, they usually give Trump a pass.

For instance, on Sunday’s State of the Union, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump about the white supremacist supporters he had retweeted, which certainly constitutes a probing question that likely made Trump uncomfortable, right?

Not exactly. While the initial question from Tapper was good, when Trump responded with a rambling, 600-word non-answer, which concluded with him vowing to bring jobs back from India, Tapper simply moved on to the next topic instead of drilling down on the fact that the Republican frontrunner was retweeting white supremacists.

Or hit the Wayback Machine to last September when Trump appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation and spun for host John Dickerson the fantastic tale about how 9/11 terrorists had tipped off their (mostly non-existent) wives about the pending terror attack, and had their (mostly non-existent) wives flown home days before hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center.

Dickerson’s response? He didn’t raise a single question about Trump’s concocted claims.

Print journalists seem to be doing a better job at fact-checking Trump. To his credit, Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post has called out some of Trump’s more outlandish claims. Kessler’s recent foray surrounded Trump’s “truly absurd claim he would save $300 billion a year on prescription drugs.”

Kessler’s conclusion? Trump is nuts. Or, more delicately:

Once again, we are confronted with a nonsense figure from the mouth of Donald Trump. He is either claiming to save four times the entire cost of the Medicare prescription drug system – or he is claiming to make prescription drugs free for every American.

Have occasional findings of fact like that changed the often-breezy tenor of Trump’s overall coverage? No they have not. Because two days after Kessler’s Medicare takedown, Trump was interviewed for an hour on CNN where the candidate wasn’t asked about his nutty prescription drug estimates. But he was asked what kind of music he likes and if he orders French fries at McDonald’s.

Welcome to the Trump Rules.

Photo: Journalists in the debate media filing center watch the five Democratic U.S. presidential candidates, (L-R) former U.S. Senator Jim Webb, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee, at the first official Democratic candidates debate of the 2016 presidential campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake