Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.
Yesterday’s press conference laid bare President-elect Donald Trump’s strategy for dealing with the press as president: He will seek to delegitimize news outlets that provide critical coverage, try to turn them against one another, reward sycophantic coverage from openly pro-Trump sources, and encourage others to follow in their lead. The candidate who waged an unprecedented war on the press will not be pivoting as president.
In one day we saw Trump publicly punish members of the press for critical reporting, threatening one outlet with “consequences” for its actions and calling on another to apologize; thank members of the press who behaved in a way he found appropriate; and take a question from an outlet tied to his top aide about what “reforms” he wants to see from the press. We saw Trump aides publicly humiliate and jeer at reporters. We saw one news outlet respond to Trump’s criticism by throwing another under the bus. We saw journalists treat the attacks on the press as a sideshow while praising Trump’s performance. And we saw a U.S. congressman call for a reporter’s firing for being “disrespectful” to the president-elect.
On Monday, CNN reported that top U.S. intelligence officials had presented information to President Obama and Trump that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” The allegations were based on memos authored by a former British intelligence officer reportedly considered credible by the U.S. intelligence community. CNN obtained the memos and reported on, but did not publish, the documents because it had not been able to verify them. BuzzFeed subsequently published the memos, acknowledging that it had not verified them.
Trump sought to use yesterday’s press conference to conflate the two stories and employ them to shatter the credibility of the news outlets that published them. The result was a horrifying day for press freedom.
Here are some of the things that happened over the course of January 11:
- Sean Spicer, who will serve as White House press secretary, opened Trump’s press conference by attacking BuzzFeed as a “left-wing blog that was openly hostile to the president-elect’s campaign” and calling its decision to publish the memos “outrageous and highly irresponsible.” He then said that both CNN and BuzzFeed were engaging in a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.”
- Before introducing Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence declared that there has been “a concerted effort by some in the mainstream media to delegitimize this election and to demean our incoming administration” and accused CNN and BuzzFeed of pushing “fake news” that he said “can only be attributed to media bias, an attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration.”
- In his opening statement, Trump thanked members of the assembled press who “came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station.”
- Asked about the story during the press conference, Trump said that BuzzFeed was “a failing pile of garbage” and is “going to suffer the consequences” for its actions. He also criticized CNN, which he said was “going out of their way to build it up” and “ought to apologize.”
- CNN’s Jim Acosta then sought to ask a question of Trump given that his outlet had been attacked. Trump lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet and refused to let him ask a question, declaring, “You are fake news!”
- The assembled press responded to Trump’s attack on Acosta by doing nothing.
- A few minutes later, Trump turned to Matt Boyle of Breitbart.com, letting Boyle ask a question. Breitbart’s executive chairman is top Trump aide Stephen Bannon, who has bragged about turning the website into the “platform” for the so-called “alt-right,” a noxious collection of white nationalists, nativists, and misogynists.
- Boyle, who has provided Trump with sycophantic coverage for years and is effectively an agent of Trump’s house news organ, was the only journalist provided with a reserved seat at the presser.
- Boyle had this question for Trump: “This decision to publish fake news and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?”
- Trump responded that he didn’t support “reforms,” just reporters who have “some moral compass,” before again saying that some of the reporters sitting in front of him work for “fake news” outlets.
- The press conference reportedly ended with Acosta being heckled by Omarosa.
- Trump “filled the room with paid staffers who clapped and cheered as he blasted members of the media as purveyors of ‘fake news,’” as Politico reported.
- After the press conference, Acosta reported that Spicer had warned him that if he didn’t stop trying to ask Trump questions, he would be “thrown out of this press conference.”
- CNN responded to Trump’s attacks on the network by rushing to declare that it hadn’t done anything wrong, and that it was BuzzFeed that rightfully deserved Trump’s wrath. It is telling that when the network came under fire, its executives and journalists sought not just to defend themselves, but to point Trump toward a more palatable target.
- The Washington Post reported that Trump had a “decent press conference” in which, “remarkably, he offered kind words for news organizations.” (The Post’s headline was later changed, replacing “decent” with “aggressive.”)
- Politico’s influential Playbook reported, “Journalists didn’t like his attacks on them, but for most people who watched Trump yesterday, it was a pretty good performance.”
- Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) tweeted that Acosta “should be fired & prohibited from any press briefings” because he was “disrespectful to Trump.”
Trump will be sworn in as president in eight days. Things can still get much, much worse.
IMAGE: Media Matters
Well, that was quite the spectacle.
In his first news conference since July, President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday likened the U.S. intelligence community to Nazi Germany, talked about himself in the third person as he described Vladimir Putin’s affection for him, and attacked not one but two news organizations.
He refused to take a question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta, accusing him of working for “fake news.” He called BuzzFeed “a failing pile of garbage” for publishing 35 pages of unverified allegations about ties between Trump and the Russian government.
“I think they’re going to suffer the consequences,” he said about BuzzFeed.
He also predicted, “I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created.”
“And I mean that,” he added, in case anyone might have wondered aloud, “Did he just say ‘God’?”
For the rest of that afternoon, emergency alert tests kept popping up on my TV screen. Coincidental, I’m sure, but it does have a way of focusing one’s mind.
CNN, by the way, only reported that both President Barack Obama and Trump had received a two-page synopsis of the allegations, without providing details. Trump still thinks CNN is stinky. So there.
Social media were full of criticism of the other reporters in the room for not defending Acosta in the moment. I hope to see such unity in the future, but I won’t pile on here. We’ve never seen the likes of this. No president loves the media, but in the past, they’ve typically vented their grievances privately and, sometimes, strategically.
Trump hates us and loves reminding all of America just how much. The journalists in that room had a lot of questions and no idea how long they’d have before he shut the whole thing down. I appreciate their attempts to get answers, even after it was clear that Trump had no intention of giving straight answers.
Everything’s going to be very, very great. That’s all you need to know.
As for BuzzFeed, this is not its finest hour.
Its initial explanation for the story: “BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”
That’s not what we’re supposed to do as journalists. Our job is to hunt down the claims and prove or disprove them. “Sources,” we call them. “Facts,” too.
In a memo to staff, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith wrote: “As we noted in our story, there is serious reason to doubt the allegations. We have been chasing specific claims in this document for weeks, and will continue to.
“Publishing this document was not an easy or simple call, and people of good will may disagree with our choice. But publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.”
I would not characterize myself as one of those people of goodwill at this moment. As a journalist, I’m steamin’ mad right now, because the last thing we need is a high-profile example of jumping the gun for clicks. As someone teaching future journalists, this is Exhibit A of what will not happen in any classroom of mine.
In the meantime, more of us journalists need to become advocates for our profession. One of the things that newspapers got so wrong during their heyday was the insistence that we shouldn’t promote what we do. The work speaks for itself, editors used to tell us. Do a good job and the readers will find you.
Boy, was that a losing strategy.
Still, journalists get squeamish at the notion of being activists for anything, for obvious reasons. But that’s what we need to be now. We must let our readers and viewers know how we do what we do and why it matters.
It’ll be a slog, if Twitter is any indication. After Trump’s news conference, I tweeted about the importance of being an activist for journalism. Trump supporters climbed all over that one, calling me the kind of stuff best left for those dark fantasies most people don’t say out loud.
It’s clear that the angriest of Trump supporters feel emboldened by his election and his behavior ever since.
What they don’t seem to understand yet is that so do we.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism.
IMAGE: A man hands a newspaper to a customer at a news stand in New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has apparently undergone a rather dramatic change in terms of how she views President-elect Donald Trump — specifically, whether she thinks it’s OK for journalists to label him a liar when he constantly lies.
Stressing the “huge challenge” that looms for the press to cover Trump “fairly” in coming years, Marcus joined forces with Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker, who last week insisted it’s out of bounds for his reporters to call a Trump a liar. (They run the risk of not looking “objective,” Baker fretted.)
Weighing in with her Sunday Post column, Marcus agreed that it’s just not fair to label Trump a liar. “The media shouldn’t hesitate to label an assertion false, but it should be cautious about imputing motive,” wrote Marcus, who doesn’t like the “inflammatory baggage” that comes with dubbing the president-elect a liar.
“The past few weeks have offered Americans a chilling glimpse of three faces of Donald Trump: the stonewaller, the shape-shifter and the liar,” Marcus wrote on May 18. She conceded that it was a “strong charge,” but insisted it was “warranted.”
How does a media transformation like that take place, considering the avalanche of lies Trump told over the course of the campaign and since his election win? How do you go from stating unequivocally that Trump’s a liar, to advocating that calling him that same thing today is somehow out of bounds and means you’re not treating him “fairly”?
Is it because Trump will soon be president and some journalists are nervous about offending him — nervous about appearing to be too tough on him and not wanting to be the targets of further bullying? Perhaps journalists are simply intimidated by Trump, whose political fortunes this year can be partially attributed to his gleefully mean-spirited attacks on the media.
Over and over we’re seeing this discouraging and potentially dangerous pattern unfold: At a time when Trump and his team are ratcheting up their attempts to discredit the media, and as they stand poised to choke off all meaningful access for journalists, too many news organizations are responding with timidity and accommodation. They seem to have learned nothing from the campaign, when Trump banned certain news outlets at will while his staff herded reporters into restricted press pens at rallies.
“Winter is coming,” is how New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has framed the looming press threats under Trump: “For a free press as a check on power this is the darkest time in American history since World War I, when there was massive censorship and suppression of dissent.”
As is the case with so much of the press’s relationship with Trump, there continues to be a runaway normalization effort at play. Rather than Trump’s relentless assault on the press sparking a collective resistance, more and more it seems to have sparked a weird, collective acceptance.
Just look at the media event that took place last Friday: Trump met in private with editors from Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Vogue. He met them at the headquarters of the magazines’ parent company, Conde Nast. Trump’s confab was off the record, which is exactly what journalists should not be doing right now — cutting side deals with Trump for sit-downs in exchange for secrecy. Instead, media outlets should be taking collective action to push back against Trump’s naked refusal to be held accountable, as well as Trump’s 19-month war on the press, not ushering him in for closed-door meetings.
A president-elect who has refused for nearly 170 days to hold a press conference and who has essentially closed off all meaningful access to political reporters — while constantly publicly denigrating journalists — doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with off-the-record bull sessions.
For instance, at their meeting the Conde Nast editors reportedly asked Trump about his plans for “health care, climate change, relations with Russia, women’s issues and abortion rights,” which are exactly the types of topics he should be asked about on the record. Because right now it’s virtually impossible to understand his specific policy positions since Trump refuses to articulate them in detail.
Besides, remember what happened the last time the president-elect had an off-the-record meeting with news executives?
For more than twenty minutes, Trump railed about “outrageous” and “dishonest” coverage. When he was asked about the sort of “fake news” that now clogs social media, Trump replied that it was the networks that were guilty of spreading fake news. The “worst,” he said, were CNN (“liars!”) and NBC.
Another participant at the meeting said that Trump’s behavior was “totally inappropriate” and “fucking outrageous.”
Meanwhile, what also occurred on Friday, after Trump met off-the-record with Conde Nast editors? He issued this stunning threat:
I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2017
So now we can add threats of congressional investigation to the long list of bullying tactics President-elect Trump has unveiled against journalists since Election Day.
Winter is coming, indeed.
IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump arrives to speak during a USA Thank You Tour event at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files
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