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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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Do Newspapers Really Need More Misleading "Trump Voter" Profiles?

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Old habits die hard.

After four years of settling into a lazy practice of treating Trump voters as inherently newsworthy and deserving of constant friendly news coverage, some outlets are having trouble breaking free of the routine three months into the Biden era. Even after the insurrectionist mob, stocked with Trump loyalists, tried to overturn an election.

This week it was the Washington Post, which inexplicably published a long piece that served simply as a laundry list of quotes from Trump supporters and Republican politicians trashing President Joe Biden's new $2 trillion infrastructure proposal:

• "It's got too much junk in it."

• "It's too much."

• "The wrong prescription for America."

• "It's a coverup for wasteful spending by our government."

• "It's a Christmas list of wasteful schemes radical liberals pushed for long before the pandemic."

The Post felt it was important to fan out across the country and record the objections without offering any counter balance.

Meanwhile, how many Biden voter stories are we seeing, even as the Democrat is riding a robust approval wave? Biden just signed into law the most popular social spending bill in more than 50 years. The U.S. jobs market is roaring back to life as the vaccination rollout continues to post astonishing results, with four million shots now being administered each day. (The U.S.'s runaway vaccination rate is five times faster than the global average.)

Yet reporters still aren't sitting down with diner Democrats in blue states to document just how much they love the new president, the way they did for four years amplifying Trump voters at every possible chance. In the span of just four days in early 2017, the New York Times published a long profile on women who voted for Trump, a piece on Trump fans who traveled to the inauguration, and an adoring profile of a Trump voter who lied about Hillary Clinton during the campaign and profited from his fake news business.

I lost count how many Trump Voter articles the Times published, but it certainly numbered in the dozens. (Here's one from just three months ago.) Even a Trump supporter who had nice things to say about Nazis received a gentle Times profile. Committed to the idea that Trump's white backers were the most important, and most authentic, voices in American politics, the media spent four years glorifying them, marveling at their loyalty in the face of Trump's erratic behavior.

Why newsrooms ever thought that 'Trump Voters Support Trump' articles made for compelling reading, we'll never know. But they did. And now to be fair they ought to be churning out 'Biden Voters Support Biden' dispatches. Biden today is more popular with Democrats than Trump ever was with Republicans, even though the press portrayed Trump as having a magical, unbreakable bond with the GOP "base."

Instead of Biden Voter stories, we get entirely misguided Republican updates like the recent one from the Post.

Let's look at three wrong-headed assertions from the Post piece, crammed into a single paragraph. [Emphasis added]:

But any window for cooperation appears to have already closed for Republicans in Congress — and it may be closing for GOP voters, as well. Interviews with dozens of voters in three swing congressional districts across the country revealed evidence that attacks on the spending push are beginning to take hold, and congressional Republicans said they are well positioned to capitalize on voter doubts and win their way back to power in 2022.

1. Forget about the GOP "window for cooperation" now supposedly closing for the infrastructure plan. The idea it ever existed is pure fantasy. The Post makes it seem like the Republican Party today is stocked with fair-minded men and women who of course, want to give Biden a chance and approach each new initiative with an open mind and the country's best interest at heart. In reality, the Republican Party has embraced a radical strategy where complete obstruction serves as the norm, even on issues where Republican voters support Democrats.

We just saw that with the Covid relief bill, where a clear majority of Republicans nationwide backed the emergency bill — and not one elected Republican in the House or the Senate voted 'Yes.' Yet just weeks later the Post pretends Republicans are all ears when it comes to listening to Biden infrastructure proposal?

2. The Post didn't interview dozens of "voters" in three swing congressional districts to get the nation's temperature on the proposed infrastructure bill, the Post interviewed Republicans. Of the six voters quoted in the article, not one is identified as a Biden supporter. The Post also quoted four Republican Congressmen — and zero Democratic members of Congress.

3. The Post amplifies the absurd Republican spin that the one-week-old infrastructure proposal is going to cost Democrats control of the House in two years — it's absurd because nobody has any idea what the defining issues of the 2022 midterm election cycle are going to be. Pretending that an infrastructure proposal, which is popular in the polls, is going to be a loser for Democrats is just regurgitating Republican talking points.

Our political landscape has shifted under the weight of a popular Democratic president. The press needs to drop those old, useless Trump habits, fast.

Why Didn’t Reporters Ask Biden A Single Question About The Pandemic?

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Although Joe Biden has been speaking to members of the media during his two months in the White House, he didn't hold his first formal press conference as president until Thursday. Biden, during the conference, discussed subjects including the legislative filibuster, voting rights, his re-election plans, foreign policy toward China and North Korea, and migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But White House reporters are receiving some criticism for the important things that they didn't ask Biden about.

The Washington Post's Karen Attiah listed some of the issues that White House reporters either ignored or downplayed:

During the press conference, Biden discussed his ambitious timetable for COVID-19 vaccinations — saying that his new goal is to get 200 million vaccination shots distributed within his first 100 days in office:

But reporters attending the press conference didn't follow up on that announcement. Nor did they ask about his goals on re-opening schools, which Biden announced his administration has made significant progress toward.

The Washington Post's Lena H. Sun and the New York Times' Maggie Haberman tweeted that the COVID-19 pandemic should have been a priority for White House reporters:

While the administration's vaccine rollout has been relatively impressive, it's not without flaws or shortfalls, and reporters could have pressed the president on that topic. They could have asked about what plans the U.S. has in the effort to get the whole world vaccinated against the virus to really put an end to the global pandemic. But they didn't.

Journalist David Boardman complained:

Indeed, Biden did make some significant news by saying he "expects" to run in 2024. But CNN's Kaitlan Collins bizarrely asked if Biden planned to keep Vice President Kamala Harris on the ticket, as if Biden would announce it if he planned to kick her off, and as if anything in the past two months would have given him any reason to part ways with her. Biden says he expects Harris will be his running mate in 2024.

Here are some other observations from Twitter users on things that White House reporters didn't ask Biden about:

How Right-Wing Media Spread Debunked Rumor Of Iowa ‘Fraud’

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton and other key conservative media figures manufactured and spread a false smear about voter registrations, previewing how right-wing media plan to spread disinformation to sow doubt and confusion throughout the 2020 election cycle.

On February 2, Fitton tweeted that “eight Iowa counties have more voter registrations than citizens old enough to register.” Early the following morning, Iowa’s Republican secretary of state, Paul Pate, debunked the claim multiple times as “false,” responding to Twitter users who promoted the smear and issuing a formal statement. Independent journalist Judd Legum also explained that this claim is baseless and relies on a misinterpretation of data. Still, right-wing media acted in concert to feed the smear, spreading the false claim hours after it had been thoroughly debunked.

Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton

Fitton responded to Pate’s debunking by doubling down, claiming that Judicial Watch is “under attack for accurately highlighting dirty voting rolls in Iowa” and smearing the Republican secretary of state and journalists who reported on the claim. In addition to spreading the smear on Twitter, Fitton bought an advertisement on Facebook to promote it. Facebook took the advertisement down after a few hours, but not before it had received between 25,000 and 30,000 impressions.

Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk

Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk also played a key role in spreading the claim. On Sunday night, Kirk tweeted a paraphrase of Fitton’s report, gaining over 43,000 retweets and 62,000 likes. Pate debunked the claim early the following morning, but Kirk continued to spread the smear nearly 21 hours after Pate’s initial attempts to debunk it. 

The Epoch Times

The Epoch Times also played an outsized role in spreading the disinformation after it had been thoroughly debunked. At 4 p.m. EST on Monday — hours after Pate had debunked the claim — The Epoch Times published an article on the report, which initially simply pushed the false claim but later added Pate’s debunk. The article began to swiftly pick up engagement, earning over 100,000 total interactions on Facebook by 8 p.m. By the following morning, the article had obtained nearly 175,000 interactions on Facebook, which had to add a disclaimer warning users that the post contained false information. On Tuesday morning, most of the posts pushing the article on its multiple Facebook pages were deleted

Fox News’ Sean Hannity 

Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity also promoted the smear online after it had been debunked, even though Fox Business anchor Neil Cavuto hosted Pate to debunk the claim on his show. Hannity’s website wrote the report up in an article titled “REPORT: Eight Iowa Counties Have More Registered Voters than ELIGIBLE Voters, 18K+ Extra Names.” Hannity tweeted out a link to his write-up at 4:07 p.m. EST on Monday, earning over 4,000 retweets and over 6,000 likes. MoveOn’s Natalie Martinez (formerly of Media Matters) also reported that some local radio stations that syndicate Hannity’s radio show were reposting the article. Hannity also posted it on Facebook, which added a disclaimer to his post too, though the social media network did not take it down. 

Other right-wing media figures and outlets involved in promoting the smear on Monday include The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft, right-wing commentator Janie Johnson, and One America News Network.

This ordeal offers a glimpse into how right-wing organizations like Judicial Watch use distorted interpretations of information to fearmonger about voter fraud — a myth long-championed by conservatives to distract from real voter suppression. Their goal appears to be to cast doubt on election results, paving the way for conspiracy theories that leave their audience’s faith in voting institutions shaken. 

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Right-Wing Media Smear Vindman’s Twin Brother As Leaker

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

On January 26, The New York Times reported on leaked portions of an unpublished manuscript from former national security adviser John Bolton, which the paper says revealed that President Donald Trump told Bolton he wanted to continue with a hold on Ukrainian military aid until the country opened investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. 

The same night, Breitbart News swiftly posted a conspiratorial smear against the brother of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council expert on Ukraine who testified in the House impeachment inquiry in October. Breitbart claimed “a source close to the Trump administration” told the outlet that Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, Alexander’s brother, “is in charge of reviewing all publications by current and former NSC officials,” which would include Bolton’s book manuscript. 

Right-wing media have attacked Alexander Vindman with detestable smears since October, when he testified to Congress that he “did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen” and that he “was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.” His testimony led to a swarm of right-wing media accusations that because he had immigrated from Ukraine as a small child, the Purple Heart winner may be more loyal toward Ukraine than the United States. 

Now, right-wing media outlets are turning their attention toward Yevgeny. While Breitbart‘s report is accurate that Yevgeny is a “senior ethics lawyer” for the NSC, there is no evidence that he saw the manuscript. In fact, Fox News’ John Roberts tweeted on January 27 that his sources say Yevgeny “is NOT part of the NSC team vetting John Bolton’s manuscript.”

Still, that didn’t stop right-wing media figures — including some from Roberts’ own network — from promoting the smear that the leak of Bolton’s book manuscript was a conspiracy stemming from the Vindmans. Conservative media outlets including The Washington TimesRedState, and Biz Pac Review reported the story, citing Breitbart. Prominent figures in conservative media tweeted about the conspiracy theory, including Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, Fox News host Mark Levin, and right-wing radio host Bill Mitchell.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), one of Trump’s strongest defenders in Congress, also promoted the smear:

The War Room podcast co-host Jason Miller also tweeted about the smear, writing, “No such thing as coincidences in politics.” Conservative giant Rush Limbaugh also promoted it as fact on his radio show, saying, “Yevgeny Vindman is the guy vetting Bolton’s book.” Newsmax’s Emerald Robinson tweeted the Breitbart article, sarcastically adding, “What a coincidence … if you believe in coincidences.” Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity claimed on his radio show that “we’re hearing that the brother of a key Schiff impeachment witness” was allegedly involved in the leak, though he also said he had not confirmed the report and was getting it from Breitbart

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs similarly offered a disclaimer that a source denied the allegations to Fox News, but he mentioned that only after sharing the smear, saying, “Both Bolton and [Robert] O’Brien led the National Security Council that employed the likes of the infamous, anonymous whistleblower, never-Trumper Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, and his brother, Yevgeny Vindman, the security council senior ethics lawyer. Yevgeny is also in charge of reviewing publications for former or current NSC employees to ensure [removal of] confidential information — say, that sort of thing, well you know, that happens at the National Security Council, the CIA, and other secretive agencies.” Frequent Dobbs guest Ed Rollins then promoted the smear, effectively rendering Dobbs’ brief disclaimer moot. 

This treatment of the Vindmans illustrates the harassment, lies, smears, and vitriol right-wing media will employ to attack any critic of Trump, particularly witnesses in the impeachment proceedings.