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Rehashing Clinton And Lewinsky — As If We Need To Do That Again

Now that President Trump has brought us peace in our time, can we all get back to stoning Bill Clinton? Because no Christian doctrine is so universally ignored among the influential tribe of Pundit-Americans as Jesus’s admonition against sexual self-righteousness: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

Leading lives of spotless moral virtue, Washington journalists have long been of one mind about the Arkansas naughty boy. So everybody got a cheap thrill when Clinton responded peevishly to a series of barbed questions about Monica Lewinsky from the Today show’s Craig Melvin.

You know, Matt Lauer’s old show. The guy with the button on his desk keeping women locked inside his office.

Nobody at NBC knew a thing.

But there’s no statute of limitations where Clinton/Lewinsky are concerned. The former president’s one-time Oval Office squeeze definitely doesn’t think so. In yet another bid to keep her celebrity martyrdom alive, Lewinsky recently wrote an essay for Vanity Fair, again lamenting how the Big Creep done her wrong.

As indeed, he did.

But can nobody close to Monica persuade her that constantly picking at a 25 year-old wound can only prevent it from healing?

After decades of defiantly insisting that her relationship with Clinton was entirely consensual, indeed passionately desired, Lewinsky writes that her eyes have been opened by the #MeToo movement: “I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege.”

Look, there’s no point re-litigating all this at this late date. But if you google “presidential kneepads,” one of the first things that comes up is a Los Angeles Times interview with the former drama teacher with whom Lewinsky had a five-year affair before heading to the White House, intent upon seducing the president.

Yes, she was in her early twenties, a “near child” according to my friend, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummett. (In which case I married a near-child six months older than me, but never mind.) Monica’s White House adventures were very far from being her first rodeo, as we say out in the boondocks. Consent? She threw herself at him thong first.

Me, I couldn’t have gotten away fast enough. Drama queens put me off. That’s one reason I bought Clinton’s cover story for the longest time. That said, none of what eventually happened would have happened if Monica hadn’t betrayed him first. She violated Rule One of adulterous love affairs: She talked.

How could a man with even a fraction of Bill Clinton’s rumored experience not see that that coming? Lewinsky talked to damn near anybody who would listen, and particularly to her false friend Linda Tripp, who proceeded to destroy Monica’s life for political purposes.

Tripp and that great American Kenneth Starr, who may have failed to notice when the Baylor University football team went on a sexual assault binge, but who tried to pressure Lewinsky into saying Clinton urged her to obstruct justice. Courageously, she refused, possibly saving the Big Creep’s presidency after first helping him damn near destroy it.

But I digress. Back to last week. Appearing on Today to promote his book The President is Missing, co-written with best-selling novelist James Patterson, Clinton found himself asked no fewer than six times in a tightly-edited segment if he didn’t think he needed to apologize privately to Monica. Oddly, the segment aired with a 1998 clip of Clinton giving a shamefaced, lip-biting apology to pretty much everybody in the world, specifically including “Monica Lewinsky and her family.”

So it was hard to know what Melvin was driving at, apart from showcasing his ability to badger an ex-president. Anyway, just like that, the old gang got back together. A ritual stoning proceeded. Indignant scribes took turns lambasting Clinton for daring to imagine he could appear on national TV without groveling about his sexual sins.

The Washington Posts Dana Milbank and Glenn Kessler, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, and, of course, the inimitable Maureen Dowd emerged as Monica Lewinsky’s champions. It was generally agreed that Clinton had paid no price for his misdeeds, and had a lot of nerve “raging” at NBC’s Melvin. Watch the clip. Do you see rage? I see mainly petulance.

Dowd hit Clinton with the ultimate insult: “Trump-level narcissism and selfishness.” Having spent decades comparing Lewinsky to the predatory Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction, mocking her weight, and lampooning her intelligence, the venerable Times columnist suddenly emerged as her champion.

Of course Clinton was foolish not to anticipate Melvin’s questions.

But should he pick up the phone, have a heart to heart with Lewinsky, and tell NBC about it?

I surely wouldn’t. Would you?

Russian Government Launches Western ‘Fake News’ Tracker

IMAGE: Pedestrians cross the street behind a billboard showing a pictures of  US president-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Danilovgrad, Montenegro, November 16. 2016. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic

NBC Is Building A Trump Normalization Machine

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

After running a proto-fascist campaign, President-elect Donald Trump will bring his hate, misogyny, and bigotry to the White House at the end of the month. And when he does, NBC will have a machine ready to normalize him. Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough is cozying up to Trump, the network is literally paying Trump through Celebrity Apprentice, and MSNBC is reportedly in talks to hire Greta Van Susteren, a longtime Fox News host with a history of treating Trump with kid gloves. And now Megyn Kelly, who famously buried the hatchet with Trump by lobbing him a softball interview and then withheld information about him until after the election, is also going to work for NBC.

By any measure, the Trump normalization effort at NBC begins at the top, with the network actually paying money to Trump as a result of his Celebrity Apprentice executive producer credit. The problem here is simple: NBC will have a fiduciary relationship with the president of the United States. The network now has an incentive to weigh aggressive reporting about the president-elect against what it might lose in revenue if Trump’s reputation is damaged. NBC, after all, is the network that had the hot mic tape of Trump bragging about sexual assault — but it’s not the outlet that broke that news.

The tangles of the Trump-NBC connection were reflected in Matt Lauer’s recent interview with new Celebrity Apprentice host Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which the two downplayed the conflict of interest posed by Trump’s role in the show. Far from raising concerns about a financial arrangement between a network and the president, Lauer instead teased the increasing personal involvement Trump could have on the show as the season goes on. That’s normalization, and it’s driven by a desire for profit margin, plain and simple. As the Trump administration draws nearer, we’re seeing signs that this approach could repeat itself in the news division.

Megyn Kelly

Megyn Kelly announced her move to NBC on Tuesday. Kelly’s schtick is old hat for those who watch Fox News closely. She’ll have one good moment that gets an absurd amount of press and defines the narrative, and she’ll follow it up by making numerous terrible remarks — often involving bigotry or race baiting of some kind — that mainstream journalists just seem to forget in the long run. In fact, promoting bigotry was something of a specialty for Kelly at Fox News, as she helped build her name by obsessively pushing the baseless conspiracy that the Obama administration had declined to pursue voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party for racial and political reasons. She would later infamously declare that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white. As Gawker’s Sam Biddle put it, “To Megyn Kelly, black rage is pervasive when she wants you scared, insignificant when she wants you ignorant.”

The thing is, with a certain crowd of media elites, Kelly’s terrible remarks never stick the way the good moments do. Just look at all the mainstream positive puff pieces on Kelly. One is left to wonder how many of these people regularly watched her show.

Her experience with Trump during the 2016 election is typical Megyn Kelly: In the first presidential primary debate, she confronted Trump about his track record of insulting women. With that query, she cemented her reputation among two crowds: the media elites who loved it, and the “alt-right” misogynists who are railing against Kelly to this day.

But despite her very public feud with Trump, during the campaign, Kelly’s Fox News show was a perfect example of normalization. Even though she posed a tough question to Trump during the debate (and asked the occasional tough question to his surrogates), she also gave Trump a welcoming platform and reinforced the bigoted tropes that he built his campaign on.

Even weeks before the debate, Kelly had set the tone for her campaign, defending Trump’s racist remarks about immigrants by positively citing Ann Coulter’s book Adios America.

And then, just days after being showered with mainstream praise for her debate question, Kelly turned to disgraced former detective Mark Fuhrman for analysis about protests in Ferguson, MO. (Fuhrman is so racist that even Fox News host and Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson has called him a bigot.) And in the weeks and months following the debate, while Trump raged about Kelly and the press ate it up, Kelly was mainstreaming a hate group, pushing bigotry against transgender people, complaining about a “thug mentality” in black communities, sneering at black protesters, and attacking a Department of Justice plan to address anti-Muslim rhetoric. Kelly blamed African-Americans who were the victims of police violence and even lashed out at one black protester for looking a police officer in the eyes. And all this was just in 2015, not to mention 2016. None of this behavior got the press that her big moment confronting Trump did.

And even when Kelly failed, it didn’t stick. Her prime-time show on Fox Broadcasting Co. last May was supposed to be a huge breakout moment. It was her chance to show she could be a “star” without the lower expectations that come with being a journalist on Fox News. Instead, the show was roundly considered a disaster, and it contained one of the worst Trump interviews of the entire election, up there with anything Sean Hannity aired. And yet, when news broke of Kelly moving to NBC, this catastrophe was largely forgotten.

That’s not all. Kelly met with Trump before the taping of that special and then withheld details about the meeting in order to make news with her book, Settle For More, released November 15. It was only after the election that Kelly revealed Trump was trying to bribe journalists behind the scenes. If Kelly’s secretive meetingwith Trump sounds familiar, it’s because her new colleague Joe Scarborough is playing the same game.

Joe Scarborough

Scarborough spent a good part of the election season carrying water for Trump. He questioned whether the timing of sexual assault allegations against Trump were “a coincidence.” He defended a Trump ad that the ADL condemned as anti-Semitic. He lied about Trump’s prior foreign policy positions. He mocked David Fahrenthold’s reporting for The Washington Post about the Trump Foundation. He called Trump’s racism and bigotry just part of a “character” that Trump was playing. He ignored Trump scandals. He excused Trump’s rhetoric, claiming Trump was “exhausted” from being on television. He credited Trump with a “dominating” debate performance. He dismissed Trump’s history of birtherism. He sneered at the idea that Trump was graded on a curve. He downplayed a comprehensive New York Times report on Trump’s treatment of women.

Like Kelly, when Scarborough and his co-host were given a high-profile prime-time interview with Trump, they completely dropped the ball, conducting a friendly chat rather than pressing him on any issue. (The casual tone continued when the cameras were off.) It’s no wonder that even a conservative radio host declared thatScarborough had “turned his show into a Trump Super PAC for six months.” An NBC pollster made a similar point. And Morning Joe devolved into a screaming match when Bill Kristol called out Scarborough for “rewriting history.”

From time to time, Scarborough was lucid about the danger Trump poses, even as late as August when Scarborough demanded the GOP ditch Trump as its nominee. Famously, Scarborough told viewers that Trump had allegedly asked during a security briefing why America cannot use its nuclear weapons. But Scarborough’s occasional Trump skepticism never lasted.

Since the election, Scarborough and Brzezinski have been all in for Trump. They have met with him in person and even boasted on air that they “speak frequently” with the president-elect. Scarborough said that he personally thinks Trump believes in climate science, despite evidence to the contrary. He also downplayed pro-Trump fake news, and he and Brzezinski both tried to whitewash the racism and bigotry out of Trump’s campaign.

Along with meeting with Trump and defending him on air, Scarborough and Brzezinski also regularly get scoops on his transition. In December, the pair, dressed in pajamas for their holiday show, broke the news that Trump was willing to start a nuclear arms race.

Scarborough also recently met with Trump at Mar-A-Lago during Trump’s New Year’s’ Eve party.

Scarborough denied being there for a party, telling CNN’s Brian Stelter that he was meeting with Trump to lobby for an on-air interview and that he was surprised to see people in tuxedos when he arrived. On Monday, he spoke with CNN’s Dylan Byers about the uproar over the incident, repeatedly invoking other reporters’ relationships with various politicians to defend himself.

Scarborough’s defensive answers to Byers give away one major problem with his close relationship with Trump: The need to protect Trump’s reputation can cloud Scarborough’s judgment. Morning Joe’s absurd defense of Trump’s position on climate change is a perfect example. With no proof in his favor, Scarborough simply asserted that Trump believes in climate science, ignoring mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Greta Van Susteren

Trump’s increasingly gushing coverage on MSNBC may soon not be limited to Morning Joe. MSNBC reportedly may hire former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren for its 6 p.m. hour (Update: Van Susteren’s move is now official). Van Susteren has given Trump a welcoming platform for years. Before the Republican primary, Trump appeared more times on Van Susteren’s On The Record than on the rest of the Fox News prime-time shows combined. During the Republican primary, Van Susteren had Trump on for over five hours, dwarfing other candidates. During these appearances, Trump pushed birtherism, claimed Obama didn’t write his own memoir, and made bigoted remarks about refugees. And Andrew Kaczynski chronicled more of Trump’s momentsfrom Van Susteren’s show.

To be fair, On The Record was not the worst on Fox News, and Van Susteren may well have been playing to the conservative audience. But the absolute worst Trump hagiographic moment during his campaign came during her “documentary” interview with his campaign. Here’s how the special looks when you take out the Trump family’s answers.

Onlookers harshly criticized the special, with MSNBC host — and potential future colleague — Chris Hayes declaring that it was reminiscent of state media under a dictator.

As of now, Van Susteren’s hiring is still a rumor and may not come to pass. But either way, a likely factor in MSNBC’s desire to add her to its lineup is her established track record of getting access to Trump, which she certainly didn’t accomplish because she subjected him to tough interviews.

What the future may bring

There are other problem spots on NBC News and MSNBC. Meet The Press fell for Trump’s spin on climate change, just as it bought his take on North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law. The show has also at various points ignored or glossed over stories like the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Trump University settlement, the investigation of the Trump Foundation, the proven lawbreaking at the Trump Foundation, the Democracy Spring protests, some of Trump’s sketchy ties to Russia, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and the nominationof Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. The hosts did find time to let Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz relitigate the invasion. They also let Glenn Beck attempt to rehabilitate his reputation — twice. And it’s not just one show. The spectre of increasing Trump normalization talk on MSNBC brings to mind the network’s shady history in the first term of the Bush administration.

MSNBC’s prime-time voices like Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell are resisting efforts to normalize Trump. But it’s unclear whether they can win that fight with the leading voices at MSNBC and NBC News pushing the other way, much less with the network itself in bed with Trump. And if Trump puts net neutrality rules on the table, NBC’s parent company, Comcast, would surely have an interest.

All of this bears close watching. But the long and short of it is that the network seems primed to become a Trump normalization machine.

In short, Fox News finally has competition.

UPDATE: Greta Van Susteren’s MSNBC show “For The Record” will reportedly begin January 9.

IMAGE: Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

NBC In Bed With Trump — The Media’s Latest Grand Failure

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters. 

Can we even count all the ways that NBC’s ongoing business relationship with President-elect Donald Trump, in the form of his executive producer title for The Apprentice, obliterates virtually every common sense standard that exists for avoiding conflicts of interest and creates an impossible situation for the network’s reporters?

The parent company for NBC News, one of the largest news organizations in America, is going to maintain its business relationship with the president of the United States; the same Donald Trump whom NBC announced last year didn’t reflect the company’s “core values,” which was why NBC publicly terminated its business relationship with him.

But now after winning the White House, it turns out Trump is going to stay on as executive producer for the latest incarnation of The Apprentice reality show, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. And all of this we’re learning just days after Trump made a big public show about how he was going to remove himself from his business conflicts.

We’re obviously through the looking glass with this Trump-NBC deal. Yet lots of Beltway pundits, the type who obsessed over the appearance of conflicts for Hillary Clinton during the campaign, now shrug their shoulders and suggest Trump maintaining a lucrative business association with a news and entertainment giant is no big deal.

Unfortunately, NBC News is no stranger to ethical entanglements when it comes to Trump and the larger NBC family. In October, NBC News was caught flat footed on one of the biggest scoops of the election season when The Washington Post revealed live-microphone comments Trump had made during an Access Hollywood taping about grabbing women by the “pussy,” because when you’re a “star” you “can do anything.”

Access Hollywood airs on NBC and executives at NBC News were told about the tape days before the Post scoop.

As CNN reported:

Thanks to a series of decisions that can be described as at least curious, NBC News missed out on gaining credit for the scoop of the campaign, an October surprise to put all others that have come before it to shame.

And it has left NBC News answering questions about its hyper-cautious reaction to the tape, and pondering if it can rehabilitate the image of its recent high-profile anchor hire, Billy Bush.

Once the disturbing tape recordings were found, NBC reportedly sat on the blockbuster story figuring out how to proceed. (By contrast, the Post published its story just hours after learning about the tapes.) But today, with Trump having an ongoing financial relationship with NBC, we’re supposed to believe there won’t be anymore potential entanglements? That’s really not believable.

Meanwhile, recognize that over the years, NBC News treated Trump very kindly while his show was a tent pole on NBC’s entertainment lineup.

Earlier this year during the Republican primary season, when the conservative Media Research Center was upset with how much television airtime Trump was getting compared to the other GOP candidates, the group examined NBC News’ often-cozy relationship with Trump between 2004-2015, while he was a regular presence on NBC’s primetime lineup:

NBC has spent more than a decade building his brand as a successful businessman of almost mythic proportion. The network’s coverage of Trump was overwhelmingly and consistently positive. MRC Business found only 15 stories (out of 335) on Trump’s business failures, and 320 stories promoting him as a businessman, his businesses, and his shows. The vast majority of stories were about the network’s show The Apprentice, which featured Trump … NBC News’s Today served as a de facto PR machine for The Apprentice and its star.

It’s impossible to suggest those conflicts for NBC will soon evaporate when Trump’s sworn into office. In fact, they’ll only multiply.

For instance, The Apprentice has been leaking viewers for years. If the show continues to lag next year, who at NBC is going to be responsible for telling President Trump that his television show has been canceled and his weekly five-figure checks are going to dry up? What if the enraged executive producer (i.e. the president of the United States) then goes on a Twitter tirade and urges his millions of followers to stop watching NBC programs, or he starts an advertising boycott against the network?

Conversely, what if the new Apprentice turns into a ratings behemoth? Will NBC News think twice about airing a blockbuster scandal report about Trump corruption, for instance, knowing it could damage a key NBC primetime asset?

And remember how Trump picked that weird public fight with U.S. manufacturing giant Boeing last week? What if the next target of Trump’s free market wrath decides it needs to mend fences with the White House and buys millions of dollars worth of product placement on The Apprentice; a cut of which could end up in Trump’s pocket?

This is just nuts. Trump’s looming business conflicts are out of control. The fact that a media company with a huge news division is part of the problem just makes it all the more distressing.

Meanwhile, a key point is that this is just the latest in the media’s rampant normalization of Trump’s wildly abnormal behavior. Every modern-day president before Trump, and every modern-day nominee before him, pledged to make sure not only wouldn’t there be any conflicts of interest surrounding their presidencies, but there wouldn’t even any appearances of conflicts; of cashing in on the Oval Office. (Cue Richard Nixon: “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.”)

Now Trump does the opposite by openly flaunting obvious conflicts and the D.C. press largely shrugs its shoulders. (Exceptions were appreciated.) Does the controversy surrounding Trump’s Apprentice payday constitute the pressing issue facing the president-elect’s transition? It does not. (Not when he’s tapping a climate denier to run the EPA, among other alarming moves.) But it highlights the disturbing pattern of the press routinely explaining away Trump’s unparalleled behavior.

I mean c’mon. When President Obama published a children’s book in 2010 as president, he donated all the earnings to charity. It would have been political suicide for him to even think about pocketing the profits. And it also would’ve been the unethical thing do.

But Trump thumbs his nose at all of that and lots of journalists just shrug while NBC stays mum? This is just the press needlessly normalizing radical Republican behavior.