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As Trump Sinks, Times Narrative Is Still 'Dems In Disarray’

Reprinted with permission from PressRun, Eric Boehlert's essential media newsletter (subscribe today!)

The staggering weight of America's pandemic continues to come into view with each passing day, as the death toll and the number of lost jobs catapult to new heights. Politically, the carnage represents the worst possible news for the incumbent president, who now has to run for re-election against the grim backdrop of 50,000 deaths and 26 million unemployed, as consumer confidence collapses in record time.

Yet incredibly, the political press remains committed to its longtime 'Dems In Disarray' narrative, deriding Democrats as being forever confused and outsmarted. (They're not.) Specifically, the campaign coverage for November seems oddly focused on the supposed woes hounding Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.

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CNN Snubbed: Why The Press Is An Easy Target For White House Bullying

Reprinted with permission from PressRun

If journalists won’t stand up for themselves, how are we supposed to stand up for them in the age of Trump?

That question comes up regularly when he lashes out against the press and takes authoritarian steps, like blocking access for specific news outlets, only to have other news organizations sit on their hands and do nothing as they watch the bullying unfold.

That’s what happened on Tuesday, when Trump blocked CNN anchors from attending the traditional, off-the-record White House lunch on the day of the State of the Union. No reason was given for the public slight, an unthinkable act of media aggression had it been done by any previous administration. But instead of taking collective action and standing alongside CNN and boycotting the lunch, network TV anchors gladly filed into the White House in search of access.

Keep in mind this week in London, when the newly elected conservative government under Boris Johnson banned certain reporters from a briefing at No. 10 Downing Street, journalists marched out in protest. Yet it’s been three years since Trump’s team has been randomly punishing reporters by banning them, and nobody in the Beltway has walked out of anything. Instead, we’ve seen occasional letters of protest meekly typed up and delivered to the White House door.

Trump’s lashing out at CNN comes just days after the State Department banned National Public Radio from accompanying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a trip after an NPR reporter had the temerity to ask Pompeo some straight-forward, obvious question about the impeachment scandal during a recent interview. After the Q&A, a furious Pompeo yelled and cursed at the reporter. Then the NPR ban was put in place.

On Monday night, a Bloomberg News reporter was asked to leave a Trump campaign event in Iowa. That same night, reporters from BuzzFeed were also kicked out of a Trump event. No reason was given. It all constitutes a historic, incremental effort by the Trump administration to lock out the news media—and, by extension, the public—from the government’s official duties and business.

Yet news outlets do nothing in response.

In some cases these are extraordinary large and powerful companies — CNN banks one billion dollars in profits each year — with lots of leverage at their disposal. But they just keep taking punch after punch, pretending they have no options.

This remains one of the media’s defining failures under Trump, and it’s easily one of the most distressing. Categorically refusing to stand up to a political bully, news outlets have instead opted to try to play a doomed game of let’s-get-along with Trump, who proudly labels journalists the “enemy of the people.” Rather than taking collective action and flexing their muscle by sending a clear message that the bullying and intimidation won’t work, major news organizations have backed down over and over, to the point where Trump clearly understands there will be no resistance, and he’ll pay no penalty for pushing journalists around.

The pre-SOTU lunch represented a perfect example of how news organizations could have joined forces and said, ‘If CNN’s not invited we’re not showing up.’ And Trump, who lives off media attention, would have been left with a deserted media round-table lunch.  Instead, the networks all sent their anchors to the White House so they could act as extras for Trump’s latest performance.

For years, the SOTU lunch has been something of a White House charade that passes as tradition. There’s no intrinsic news value in sitting for an off-the-record lunch with the president while he previews his State of the Union. That’s been true for decades. There’s absolutely no reason so sit like potted plants through an off-the-record lunch with Trump who’s known to be a committed liar. Instead, the Tuesday event was about protocol, and TV networks pretending that not much has really changed in American politics since Trump took office three years ago.

It was also about access, of course. The proximity to power, which is how many among the Beltway media elite judge their success and preeminence. Once they obtain that access to the highest levels of the White House, there’s nothing that will make them give it up.

Last winter, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger accompanied reporters to a White House interview with Trump in order to press his case that the president’s anti-journalism rhetoric was dangerous. But the opportunity was a wasted one when Sulzberger toothlessly objected to claims of “fake news,” and Trump pretended not to know his words were having consequences.

If today’s editors and producers in positions of power don’t want to stand up to Trump’s bullying, can they hand over the reins of powers to somebody who will?

P.S. Hours after CNN was blocked from attending Trump’s State of the Union lunch, CNN announced that his State of the Union speech was “dazzling.”

Bullying works.

GOOD STUFF:

How 2016 Failures Keep Haunting The Beltway Media

The Hillary Clinton exoneration tour continues, and with it comes the deafening silence from news organization that gleefully bought into GOP attacks on her during the 2016 campaign. Determined to never acknowledge their sweeping failures during the last presidential cycle, the Beltway media show no signs of having learned anything over the last four years. Indeed, newsrooms refuse to be transparent about what kinds of changes, if any, have been put into place to make sure the epic failures of 2016 are not repeated this election cycle. 

After Trump’s partisan Justice Department launched an investigation of the Clinton Foundation, in an obvious effort to “mollify conservatives” still obsessed with Clinton bashing, the inquiry has produced no proof of any wrongdoing, the Washington Post recently reported. The Clinton Foundation’s “corruption” was a GOP manufactured gotcha story that the press gleefully amplified for 18 months between 2015 and 2016. 

During that time, the New York Times and the Washington Post published more than 200 articles about the Clinton Foundation, according to Nexis.

Yet even today, you often get a blank stare today when you ask journalists about the 2016 media fiasco. They simply don’t see the failures, or won’t admit to them. Note that the editor who oversaw the Times’ disastrous campaign coverage four years was recently elevated up the masthead, landing one of the newspaper’s most senior positions. Institutionally, there is certainly little evidence that the Times brass feels like anything went wrong in 2016. 

For lots of Democrats and liberals, the failures of the 2016 coverage are obvious for all to see, as the press treated Trump like a celebrity while holding Clinton, the first woman presidential nominee, to ridiculous double standards. Fact: Trump refused

to make personal donations to any charities, while Clinton helped bankroll a wildly successful one. But she was the one relentlessly x-rayed by the media for a year on the topic of charities.

And for the record, the Times, which essentially sponsored the Clinton Foundation smear by teaming up with a Breitbart writer, still has not assigned a reporter to cover the latest exoneration of the Clinton Foundation. To date, the paper has only published a Reuters wire story, buried where nobody would notice it.

We’ve seen this shoulder shrug before. Last year, when a lengthy State Department investigation concluded there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information in emails sent to and from Clinton’s private server while she was secretary of state, the Times covered the story on page 16 and devoted 649 words to that exoneration. Recall that during the final stretch before the 2016 campaign, the Times famously crammed three separate Clinton email stories onto its front page on the same day, signaling to readers that the story had reached epic, blockbuster proportions.

Reporting on the Justice Department’s exoneration of the Clinton Foundation, Vanity Fair presented the attacks on the charity as a baseless “conspiracy theory championed by conservatives.” CNN made the same point, stressing that “Trump” in 2016 was “making the case — with scant evidence — that Clinton was somehow using her official office to feather her own nest.”  The media in recent days have been clear, that the blame should lay with “conservatives” and “Trump,” who concocted the hollow Clinton Foundation gotcha story during the previous campaign. 

But that’s only half of the truth. The other half — the half that the press does not want to discuss in 2020 — is that the media willingly co-cosponsored that conspiracy theory and turned it into legitimate news. It was the Beltway press, dripping with contempt for Clinton, that breathlessly hyped the non-story for weeks and months in 2015 and 2016.  Today though, the mediawon’t come clean. Instead, editors and producers develop amnesia and insist it was only “conservatives” and “Trump” who peddled the Clinton Foundation smear. 

How did we get to such an absurd place, where the press depicted a wildly successful and transparent charity as some sort of ominous web of political deceit supposedly drenched in shadowy payments?

This paranoid fantasy was part of the all-consuming narrative depicting Clinton as a globally powerful villain who schemed around the world to line her pockets (while working 80 hours a week as Secretary of State). This preposterous theory suggested that not only did she serve in Obama’s cabinet but she was effectively president of the United States. It meant that Clinton must have dictated uranium policy and she who single-handedly signed off on the Uranium One deal — not in fact nearly a dozen federal U.S. agencies.

It was a deeply misogynistic tale that portrayed the first woman presidential nominee in American history as being deeply untrustworthy in a way that powerful men in Washington, D.C. are never shown. Rather than admiring Clinton’s decades worth of accomplishments, those achievements were held up to scorn as the press tried furiously to construct a storyline about her duplicitous ways, most famously surrounding her emails and the Clinton Foundation. 

The latter story was concocted in 2015 when Rupert Murdoch’s HarperCollins published Clinton Cash by longtime Republican partisan writer Peter Schweizer. A sloppy, book-length attack on Clinton Foundation donors, the book tried (and failed) to show how foundation donations corrupted Clinton’s decisions during her time as secretary of state; how the foundation acted as a side door for millionaires to buy influence inside the Clinton camp.  The New York Times and the Washington Post then teamed up with Schweizer and helped push his flawed Clinton opposition research. 

In many of those news accounts, the fact that the Clinton Foundation is a charity was often downplayed, including the organization’s pioneering mission to provide cheaper, better  medicine to millions of poor HIV/AIDS sufferers around the world. Or its innovative efforts on global healtheconomic inequalitychildhood obesity, and climate change

 “If Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for president, the Clinton Foundation would be seen as one of the great humanitarian charities of our generation,” nonprofit analyst Daniel Borochoff of Charity Watch  told CNN in 2016. 

Months later, after conceding that recent news reports hadn’t proven any actual wrongdoing or lawbreaking with the foundation or in its connection with the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state, editorials appearing in t Washington PostBoston Globe, and USA Today, among others, were nonetheless adamant: Shut it down. 

And now we know, via a handpicked Trump Justice Department prosecutor, that there was never any there there. The whole gotcha smear campaign was a joke, and the media played along. Sadly, there’s no indication any lessons have been learned for 2020.

IMAGE: Hillary Clinton attends a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, PA, October 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

Did American Media Learn Anything From The Iraq Debacle?

The press sure seems to love glorifying Republican presidents against the backdrop of possible war. 

Rushing in to get the behind-the-scenes telling of how Donald Trump decided to approve the drone killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed while traveling in a convoy near the Baghdad International Airport on January 2, CNN collected pleasing quotes from administration officials. Steering clear of any dissenting voices, the news outlet reported there had been  “serious debate within the administration leading up to the strike,” CNN stressed that Trump, who was “wary of war,” had been “defiant” on the day the kill order was given, and seemed to “be freshly aware of the gravity of his role and the power he wields.” Perhaps most importantly, the raid represented an “immediate victory” for Trump. 

Got that? Anti-war Trump was deeply engaged with advisers, at turns “defiant” and reflective while he scored a major “victory.” Left out of that GOP-delivered narrative that portrayed the president as a modern-day FDR, was the idea that Trump has no idea what he’s doing and with the rogue raid he represents a growing danger to America’s national security. 

Meanwhile, the first expert the New York Times quoted in the wake of the deadly strike was a conservative hawk, and the first column the paper published about the raid was from a conservative hawk. 

Elsewhere, “CNN is allowing a parade of Republican lawmakers to go on air and cheerlead for war with Iran, and barely bothering to ask any of them how the U.S. keeps the region safe or what the plan is,” writer Matthew Chapman noted on Twitter. “We’ve learned much less since 2003 than we should have.”

Indeed, for days it’s been hard to shake the “here we go again” feeling as news consumers are hit with lots of White House-friendly narratives about the unauthorized raid in Iraq. It’s impossible not to think back to how the mainstream media effectively co-sponsored the disastrous war in Iraq back in 2003. 

Battered by accusations of a liberal bias and determined to prove their conservative critics wrong, the press during the run-up to the war — timid, deferential, unsure, cautious, and often intentionally unthinking — came as close as possible to abdicating its reason for existing in the first place, which is to accurately inform citizens, particularly during times of great national interest. The press went out of its way to tell a pleasing, administration-friendly tale about the pending war.

In truth, President George W. Bush never could have ordered the invasion of Iraq — never could have sold the idea at home — if it weren’t for the help he received from the press, and particularly the stamp of approval he received from so-called liberal media institutions such as the Washington Post, which in February of 2003 alone, editorialized in favor of war nine times. By the time the invasion began, the de facto position among the Beltway chattering class was clearly one that backed Bush and favored war.

At least during the Bush years during the run up to the Iraq War, Republicans went to some lengths to produce the appearance of bogus intelligence to support its premise for an unprecedented pre-emptive war for the United States. Recall that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell was drafted by the White House to give a wildly hyped presentation at the United Nation just weeks before the invasion where he supposedly laid out the U.S.’s ironclad proof that Saddam Hussein posed a weapons of mass destruction threat to the world. And the media fell for it. “He persuaded me,” the Washington Post’s Mary McGrory announced. “And I was as tough as France to convince.”

In the end though, the entire presentation turned out be a mountain of lies and disinformation, which Powell himself eventually conceded. Today though, the Trump White House doesn’t even bother to put on a show. Instead, officials have simply told reporters that the assassination raid was done in order to fend off some vague looming threats against American troops in the region. There’s no documentation. There are no intel report, no photo surveillance, and no intercepted communications. It’s just the Trump White House, which lies about everything, making a hollow claim to cover for an unauthorized military strike. 

And note that the justification Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave, that Soleimani was planning future attacks on U.S. troops and therefore had to be killed, doesn’t make any sense since, obviously, those supposed plans to kill U.S. troops, didn’t die with Soleimani. I mean, there is an Iran military that could conceivably carry out those attacks. 

Yet for several news cycles the administration’s thin justification was treated as serious

CNN: “Pompeo: Strike on Soleimani disrupted an ‘imminent attack’ and ‘saved American lives'” 

 

USA Today: “Trump: Iran’s Soleimani was plotting ‘imminent’ attacks on diplomats, soldiers before US killed him”

 

ABC News: “US strike on Iran’s Soleimani saved hundreds of American lives, disrupted attacks in three countries: State Dept.”

When Pompeo appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows to defend the administration’s paper-thin justification for the assassination strike, he was met with mostly differential questioners who effectively tip-toed around the large elephant in the room: Trump and his lieutenants were possibly lying about everything in conjunction with the assassination. 

The good news is there is already far more media skepticism about Trump’s dangerous maneuver than there was during Bush’s rush to war, when the nation’s post-9/11 nationalist fever was still strong. That might be because Trump isn’t nearly as popular as Bush was at the time, and because Democrats are quickly standing up to Trump. 

Still, lots of warning signs remain that the Beltway press hasn’t learned enough lessons from its Iraq War debacle.

IMAGE: Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney (left).

The Year The Press Tried — And Failed — To Stand Up To Trump

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

With Donald Trump becoming the first American president to be impeached in his first term, while holed up in the White House tweeting endless attacks around the clock like some internet troll, 2019 should have been the year the Beltway media finally shed its signature timidity and forcefully stood up to him. This should have been the year the press worked up the courage to disband the pointless protocols newsroom had established for covering Trump (he’s not a “liar,” he’s not a “racist”), and simply started telling the hard truths about him. And while there were some welcome flashes of truth-telling, especially surrounding the Ukraine scandal and the impeachment, for the most part the Washington press corps still hasn’t signaled that’s it’s ready, or willing, to take the necessary steps needed to cover Trump.

There continues to be a collective reluctance to grapple with today’s difficult reality. Unfamiliar with covering authoritarian regimes or how to respond to them, many news outlets remain committed to treating Trump’s spectacle as a reality TV show.

Trump remains the most deeply radical player in American politics, yet the press corps is still trying to cover him as a traditional political figure, which means if the president of the United States makes some sort of public statement on a pressing issue of the day, you quote him under the assumption that he’s telling the truth and not just making stuff up. But he’s not, and he is. Trump in 2019 continued to benefit from press coverage that obediently pretended that he’s an honest broker. Wash, rinse, repeat. This, while Trump maintains his dangerous campaign to paint the press as the “enemy of the people.”

Oddly committed to normalizing Trump by scrubbing off his hateful and dangerous rough edges, many in the Beltway press continue to play a strange game in which they refuse to describe what they clearly see in front of them. Whether it’s the fear of Trump Twitter attacks or the nearly five-decade-long GOP campaign to demonize the “liberal media,” newsrooms today nearly uniformly refuse to address the mounting, obvious signs that Trump is a deeply unstable man. Journalists watch Trump hole up in the White House spamming Twitter on some weekends with hundreds of illogical posts and then politely look away.

Incredibly, as I noted in August, this represented one 48-hour period in 2019:


He quoted a rabid conspiracy theorist radio host who declared that Israeli Jews love Trump as if he were the “King of Israel” and “the second coming of God,” while Trump himself accused American Jews of “great disloyalty” if they voted for Democrats. He attacked the prime minister of Denmark (“nasty”) because she will not sell him Greenland and she mocked the very idea as “absurd.” He suggested he might serve more than two terms in office. He slurred his words while reading a speech off a teleprompter. He accused journalists of trying to ruin the U.S. economy. He claimed Google had “manipulated” millions of votes in Hillary Clinton’s favor during the 2016 election. He suggested giving himself a Medal of Honor. He said doctors in El Paso, Texas, left their operating rooms mid-surgery in order to greet him during his visit there following a local gun massacre. And he referred to the NRA as if it were a co-equal branch of the federal government.

Compared to all previous American presidents, that would have easily surpassed the irrational missteps they made during an entire term in office. For Trump, it was just his vacation week. Yet the press remains consistently timid in dealing with Trump’s blatantly unstable behavior. Newsrooms today nearly uniformly refuse to address the mounting, obvious signs that Trump remains a deeply troubled man.

What does it mean for the most powerful leader in the free world to be acting in a bizarre and often seemingly schizophrenic fashion? And how is every administration official who appears on television not immediately and repeatedly asked whether Trump is mentally fit to hold office, and whether he poses a danger to this country? If the same journalists watched a foreign leader behaving as erratically as Trump does, that would be the first question they posed to officials.

The fact that a sitting president has unleashed so many bizarre public performances, punctuated by so many incomprehensible non sequiturs, means his stability and capacity ought to be questioned—and it ought to be a constant news story. But it’s still not.

Of course, 2019 was the year that White House press briefings were officially canceled. In a move that once would have been considered an unthinkable act by any White House, the Trump team simply pulled the plug, leaving White House reporters with extremely limited access to officials who are willing to answer even the simplest questions about the administration’s policies and agenda. In the face of that drastic action, news outlets took no collective action in response. They could have used their clout to send a powerful message if they had pulled their reporters out and signaled they weren’t going to be used as props for the press charades the White House plays.

Instead, reporters dutifully gathered outside the White House to shout questions at Trump during his so-called “Chopper Talk” sessions as he approached the presidential helicopter on the White House grounds. The controlled chaos of those sessions, where reporters yell simplistic questions, allows Trump to pick and choose reporters at random, and to ignore questions he doesn’t like. He’s also immune from follow-up questions and is free once again to lie indiscriminately, without being held accountable. All of which cable news outlets air in its entirety under the guise of “news.”

And that’s when the press wasn’t being willingly duped in 2019 by Trump’s team, and especially his attorney general, William Barr. In a signature press failure for the year, reporters for days played along with Department of Justice propaganda about the Mueller report and how it had supposedly exonerated Trump. But the only person claiming that at the time was Barr, who wouldn’t allow reporters to see the full report.

Undeterred, journalists simply took Barr’s untrustworthy four-page press release and treated that as the full report. The New York Times rushed to report that Trump had been exonerated and that Mueller’s conclusions had provided Trump with a “powerful boost” toward re-election. Reminder: Nobody at the Times had read a single page of the Mueller report. News outlets everywhere scrambled to produce pro-Trump headlines based on Barr’s propaganda: “Mueller finds no conspiracy” (The Washington Post), “Mueller finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy” (The New York Times), “Mueller finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy” (Politico), “Mueller doesn’t find Trump campaign conspired with Russia” (The Wall Street Journal), “Mueller finds no Trump collusion, leaves obstruction open” (Associated Press).

They all soon discovered the obvious reality: Trump and his team had simply lied about the contents of the Mueller report, hoping (knowing?) that the press would fall for the false spin, which too many outlets did.

The key to covering Trump isn’t some deep mystery for news organizations, and it doesn’t require much sacrifice. It simply demands honesty and a willingness to be clear about what’s happening in this country. Sadly, that was lacking in 2019.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

‘Dems In Disarray’ Is Still Favorite Media Narrative

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Poised to pass two articles of impeachment in the full House this week, Democrats have remained extraordinarily united throughout the process while nearly half the country stands in favor of taking the drastic action of removing Donald Trump from office. Yet press coverage in recent days has suggested (surprise!) that Democrats are in a state of disarray, a favorite fallback position for much of the  Beltway media, where Democrats are constantly portrayed as scrambling and being outsmarted by Trump and the GOP. In the process of focusing on Democrats and the alleged struggles impeachment presents, news outlets continue to eliminate Republicans from the entire process. The GOP, apparently, faces no impeachment fallout, only Democrats.

Stressing “the quiet hand-wringing” that now consumes Democrats, The Washington Post last week insisted the party was bracing for Democratic defections when the articles of impeachment are soon voted on by the full House. Democrats are bracing? Really? From a political perspective, I’d suggest that if 10 or 20 percent of the Democratic caucus in the House balked on impeachment and voted no, that would represent a stinging defeat for party leadership. Ten or 20 percent of the 233-member caucus today would mean 20-40 Democratic no’s. But how many Democrats are poised to vote no on Trump impeachment? According to the Post, possibly six members will vote no, or roughly 3 percent of the Democratic caucus. Sorry, but that just doesn’t qualify as big news.

Yet the press seems obsessed with the idea of a sizable impeachment fracture among Democrats. Previously, when 231 out of 233 Democrats voted in favor of starting an impeachment procedure, one of the two Democrats voting no turned into a media darling overnight. Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey has been showered with media attention for months now (see: herehereherehereherehereherehere, and here) as the press doggedly tracks down one of only two Democrats not currently onboard with impeaching Trump. But again, that’s not news and it certainly doesn’t suggest Democrats are in disarray regarding Trump.

The truth is, Democrats remain extraordinarily unified on the question of impeachment—more united, in fact, than any other party overseeing such a inquiry. Back in 1998 when Republicans in the House impeached Bill Clinton, they offered up four articles of impeachment. In the vote on the first article, which accused Clinton of lying under oath while being interviewed by independent prosecutor Ken Starr, five Republicans voted no. On the second article, 12 Republicans voted no. On the third article, 28 voted no. And on the fourth article, nearly one-third of the Republican caucus joined with Democrats and voted no.

Can you imagine what the Beltway media meltdown would look like today if one-third of House Democrats decided to vote against one of pending articles of impeachment that Trump now faces?

Don’t forget that over the summer, before the Ukraine scandal broke and Trump admitted to pressuring a foreign government to help his reelection campaign, the press (led by The New York Times) was pushing the narrative that impeachment was a problem if Democrats did not launch hearings. Over and over reports appeared about how impeachment was splitting the party and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was facing an internal mutiny over the push for some members to impeach Trump in the wake of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Back then, the presspresented impeachment as a looming problem for Democrats if they didn’t go through with it. Then almost immediately after Democrats announced the impeachment inquiry, the press (again led by the Times) flipped the script and suggested impeaching Trump posed a grave political danger for Democrats. In other words: heads Democrats lose, tails Democrats lose.

Meanwhile, where are all the reports about Republicans and how voting no on impeachment might hurt them next November? Apparently most journalists don’t think Republicans have to return home to their districts and face uncomfortable questions, possibly from independent voters, about impeachment and about a president who’s admitted to openly colluding with a foreign power in order to dig up dirt on his domestic political rival. Wouldn’t the common-sense narrative be that it’s Republicans who face an uncertain path as they prepare for a 2020 campaign season that will likely feature an unpopular Republican president facing an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate?

Instead, the press coverage remains centrally focused on “moderate” Democrats who are supposedly facing political peril next year. But again, who are all these Democratic moderates facing steep reelection challenges in conservative-leaning districts? As I recently noted, there’s not a single Democratic member of the House who is expected to lose their seat next year, according to The Cook Political Report newsletter. Also, House Democrats representing districts Trump won in 2016 have already faced voters during the 2018 midterms, when Democrats mounted a blue wave and won 40 seats in the House.

Increasingly, the press has just eliminated Republicans from the impeachment coverage, and specifically what the political hurdles may be for the party. Politico last week published a story that emphasized how Democrats are facing a post-impeachment “dilemma” and “paradox” because if a remorseless Trump keeps committing impeachable offenses, Democrats will be boxed in, having just reprimanded him. “A post-impeachment Congress will present a tricky dynamic for Democrats,” Politico reported. It just seems odd that we’ve arrived at the place where possible future lawbreaking by a Republican president is framed as a “dilemma” for … Democrats.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.

CNN Editor Flores Distributed Strzok-Page Text Messages

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.

Last winter, CNN for weeks stood by its extraordinary and inexplicable decision to hire Sarah Isgur Flores, a career Republican Party operative with absolutely no journalism experience, to be the network’s political editor. A hardcore partisan, Isgur spent her career spinning for Republicans such as Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, and Carly Fiorina. Until last year, Isgur worked as a spokesperson for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice. CNN staffers were reportedly demoralized by the Isgur move—and for good reason, since CNN political editors should be journalists, period.

If CNN wants to hire conservatives like Isgur to go on camera and bolster Trump talking points, that’s the network’s choice. But to hire someone with Isgur’s resume to work behind the scenes and oversee campaign coverage remains a baffling decision to this day. “Her Twitter includes fact-free invectives against liberals and repeatedly rails against the ‘abortion industry,’” The Daily Beast noted at the time.  

By March, CNN acknowledged the controversy and announced that Isgur “is no longer taking a job as a political editor in the Washington bureau. Instead Isgur will be a political analyst at the network, sharing her insights through television segments like many other commentators do.”

But now, more questions are being raised about why CNN ever even considered hiring an openly partisan operative for a key campaign coverage position. The questions come as CNN continues to struggle with trying to balance its desire to employ conservative voices for political balance while also maintaining common-sense standards at the network.

We now know that while working for Trump’s DOJ, Isgur played a central role in the GOP’s public smearing of a longtime FBI official, Lisa Page, who had been part of a 2016 team investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails, as well as examining suspicions that Donald Trump’s campaign was working with Russian forces. The GOP, led by Trump, declared war on Page after it was discovered she had been texting about the election with FBI agent Peter Strzok, with whom Page was having an affair.

Seizing upon the idea that the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign as part of the nonsensical “Deep State” effort to deny him the White House, Republicans soon turned Page and Strzok into villains, while gleefully leaning into their affair. Just two months ago, “The president called out her name as he acted out an orgasm in front of thousands of people at a Minneapolis rally,” The Daily Beast noted.

Now, with a DOJ inspector general’s report set to be released which reportedly confirms there was no rogue effort by the FBI to spy on Trump, the whole Page/Strzok smear campaign looks especially cruel and heartless. And it turns out it was Isgur who was essentially feeding what Republicans thought were incriminating texts to reporters back in 2017, as the controversy raged.

The night before then-deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein was set to testify before Congress, “the Justice Department spokesperson, Sarah [Isgur] Flores, calls the beat reporters into the Justice Department,” Page told The Daily Beast. “This is late at night on a weekday. Calls them in to provide a cherry-picked selection of my text messages to review and report on in advance of Rod Rosenstein going to the Hill the next morning.”

Why were the texts released? “You’d have to ask Sarah [Isgur] Flores,” Page said. “I can tell you that the reporters there that night were told that they weren’t allowed to source them to the Justice Department, and that they weren’t allowed to copy or remove them, just take notes. That’s what I know.” She added, “Those texts were selected for their political impact. They lack a lot of context. Many of them aren’t even about him or me.”

This is just egregious behavior, to have a DOJ spokesperson work in tandem with the GOP to try to effectively ruin the life and reputation of an FBI official for purely partisan reasons, and to do it in such a personal and unseemly way. And that’s who CNN earlier this year wanted to hire as a political editor overseeing campaign coverage? It’s kind of breathtaking.

Again, no reasonable person thinks CNN should not hire conservatives in order to present a wide spectrum of political opinions. Clearly CNN markets itself as occupying the political middle in this country and wants to present itself as a forum for both sides, and that makes sense from a programming perspective. What does not make sense is abandoning newsroom guidelines and principles in order to make room for conservatives with dubious pasts or, in the case of Isgur, someone who acted in such an unethical manner while dealing with journalists.

Keep in mind that CNN reached out to a toxic GOP partisan operative at the same time Trump had declared war on the network. Last year, the White House lashed out at CNN by pulling reporter Jim Acosta’s press pass. Trump routinely defames the network on Twitter. Recently, Trump’s personal attorney sent a ridiculous letter to CNN, threatening to sue the network for its “biased” coverage of Trump. Yet CNN continually responds by aggressively trying to curry favor with conservatives and Trump defenders.

In October the network hired Sean Duffy as a commentator. The former Republican congressman quickly created problems for the network by constantly fabricating facts and spreading reckless and dangerous conspiracy theories. During his CNN debut week, Duffy lied about the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords. He lied about Joe Biden trying to fire a Ukraine prosecutor in order to protect his son. And Duffy helped spread the preposterous lie about the Democratic National Committee’s email servers from 2016 somehow ending up in a foreign country.

Duffy then questioned the patriotism of Purple Heart recipient and National Security Council official Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, after it was reported Vindman was telling House investigators damaging information about Trump’s open collusion with Ukraine and his attempt to get a foreign power to dig up dirt on the Republican’s political opponents. CNN anchors went on the air and directly denounced Duffy’s comments as a “smear” and an ugly form of “bigotry.”

CNN should welcome conservatives onto their televised debates and discussions. But they shouldn’t make exceptions for conservatives who are unqualified for the job.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

Why Obsess Over Billionaires’ Opinion Of Elizabeth Warren?

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

It turns out the media’s obsession with the superrich isn’t confined to the world of celebrity and entertainment. In politics, the press also seems utterly fascinated with how the 0.1 percent live, and especially what their political leanings are. For the 2020 campaign, that means a barrage of coverage about what Wall Street bankers and billionaires think about Elizabeth Warren and her populist agenda. They don’t trust her! Some like her! Some won’t donate! On and on it goes, as the press scurries to document the opinions of the superwealthy, but there’s no explanation for why they’re supposed to matter so much.

“From corporate boardrooms to breakfast meetings, investor conferences to charity galas, Ms. Warren’s rise in the Democratic primary polls is rattling bankers, investors and their affluent clients, who see in the Massachusetts senator a formidable opponent who could damage not only their industry but their way of life,” read a typical passage from The New York Times recently, as the press continues to be deeply fascinated with what the financial community thinks of the Democratic nominee, and keeps treating financial opinions as important political news.

The headlines keep coming:

As Warren Gains in Race, Wall Street Sounds the Alarm

Wall Street donors are so worried about Elizabeth Warren that they are snubbing Democrats in 2020 Senate races

In a Pick-Your-Poison Election, Wall Street Likes Warren Over Trump

Warren has a plan for Wall Street — and Wall Street isn’t panicking

Elizabeth Warren is winning grudging respect among some on Wall Street

Warren Would Take Billionaires Down a Few Billion Pegs

The Wall Streeters who actually like Elizabeth Warren

The never-ending emphasis sends a clear message that the votes and donations of Wall Street bankers and billionaires matter more than other people’s. But they don’t. It’s reminiscent of the media’s 2016 campaign obsession with coal miners, followed close by its obsession with those who have manufacturing jobs, which sent the obvious signal that white working-class male voters were the ones who counted the most.

It’s clear that Warren’s agenda, and her rise in the polls, have gotten the attention of Wall Street. She’s running on a billionaire wealth tax to help pay for her $52 trillion Medicare for All plan. Her wealth tax proposal would also impose a 2 percent tax on net worth between $50 million and $1 billion. “Our democracy has been hijacked by the rich and the powerful,” Warren often says on the campaign trail.

Buy why is the press so hypersensitive to Wall Street’s take on Warren? Obviously, Democrats have never been the election darlings of Wall Street executives and billionaires, who traditionally vote Republican. So it’s not as if it’s a natural constituency for reporters to focus on during the Democratic primary. Yes, there is a portion of that financial audience that donates to Democrats, and most candidates want to keep receiving that money. But those donations pale in comparison to the small-donor, grassroots money that fuels most Democratic campaigns these days.

Yet again and again, journalists push the premise that it’s a big problem that Wall Street isn’t supporting a prominent Democrat this election. For instance, the Times recently interviewed “more than two dozen hedge-fund managers, private-equity and bank officials, analysts and lobbyists” to find out what they thought, and feared, about Warren’s campaign. CNBC also checked in with “hedge fund managers and private equity executives” to chronicle their Warren complaints. And I’m just wondering: On paper, is it possible to find a coalition of voters less likely to support a Democrat than hedge-fund managers, private-equity and bank officials, analysts and lobbyists? I seriously doubt it. That’s like doing a news report on how college history professors aren’t supporting Trump in 2020. Yes, and … ?

The press focus reflects the media’s worshipful culture of the superrich and its conviction that of course it matters if they don’t like a Democrat, even though it doesn’t really matter much at all. Billionaire Leon Cooperman made headlines when he posted a whiny open letter to Warren, castigating her policies and claiming she was beating up on the rich. But why does his opinion even constitute news? “The fact that each random billionaire’s thoughts on Elizabeth Warren is a news story is itself a powerful demonstration of the disproportionate political influence of the very rich,” Matthew Yglesias noted on Twitter.

The fact is that financiers are not an integral part of the Warren campaign. Through the first three quarters of the year, she raised just $215,000 from people in the securities and investment industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that’s typical for Democrats who simply don’t pull huge donation numbers from that industry. Through the third quarter, Pete Buttigieg had raised $935,000, trailed by Cory Booker who has raised $927,000 from the finance industry, Joe Biden ($889,000), and Kamala Harris ($765,000), according to figures from the center.

Warren’s populist agenda has clearly sparked concerns from Wall Street financiers and billionaires. But the press shouldn’t pretend that those voices matter more than those of everyday voters in the Democratic election season.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.


Roger Stone And The 2016 Disgrace Of Mainstream Media

News that a federal court convicted former Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone on seven counts, including obstruction of a proceeding, false statements, and witness tampering only added to Trump’s woes as the second day of impeachment hearings played out in Washington. Stone’s conviction certainly added to an aura of criminality that surrounds Trump, as more aides and advisers are convicted and sentenced to prison time.

The guilty verdicts also returned focus to the dismal job the campaign press did in 2016. Specifically, the media treated a bottom feeder like Stone as a serious person while wallowing in the Democratic emails that Russian operatives stole, and for which Stone served as a conduit for Republicans.  

During the 2016 campaign, both The New York Times and The Washington Post couldn’t stop quoting Stone, and couldn’t stop whitewashing his ugly past. In their pages, Stone was vaguely tagged as a “Trump confidant,” a “veteran political operative,” “an informal adviser,” “a political strategist,” the “master of the political dark arts,” a “sometime-Trump adviser,” and yes, a “Trump supporter.” What did news outlets politely leave out in 2016, when Stone became a go-to source? They left out his racist and radically hateful past.

From Media Matters:

Stone called commentator Roland Martin a “stupid negro” and “fat negro.” He referred to commentator Herman Cain as “mandingo” and called former Rep. Allen West (R-FL) an “arrogant know-it-all negro.” He also called commentator Al Sharpton a “professional negro” who likes fried chicken and asked if former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson was an “Uncle Tom.”

Additionally, Stone attacked New York Times columnist Gail Collins as an “elitist c*nt” and tweeted “DIE BITCH” at former Times executive editor Jill Abramson. Back in 2008, Stone formed the anti-Clinton group called “C.U.N.T.” Keep in mind, Stone had been banned by both CNN and MSNBC because he was so untrustworthy, but the Times and Post had no trouble trusting him.

There’s no way serious news outlets should have been dignifying a gutter player like Stone as a significant, professional political voice in 2016. “Stone is a thug who relishes personal insults, character assassination, and offensive gestapo-like tactics that should be unequivocally dismissed by civil society, most especially those who might give him a platform from which to spew his hatred,” is what conservatives were saying about Stone that year.

But when it came to Trump, too many in the press changed all the rules in order to accommodate him. And one key rule was to pretend Stone wasn’t a deeply odious and untrustworthy player.

Stone’s star seemed to rise in the press because of his association with the story of the Democratic Party emails that were stolen and widely distributed to the media during the campaign. And that was the media’s second major, Stone-related sin of the campaign season: Journalists actively, and irresponsibly, hyped a Russia dark ops campaign that Stone helped market.

Here’s the key part: Despite their revisionist claims that they had no idea Russia was behind the email scheme, journalists knew in the summer of 2016 that Russia was connected to the hack, yet reporters and editors gleefully published the stolen documents anyway. WikiLeaks’ connection to the Kremlin has never been a deep mystery. “Throughout WikiLeaks’ existence, the allegedly pro-transparency group has had strange, shadowy, but very well-documented connections to the Russian state,” Vox has noted.

In June 2016, a cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee posted a public notice that concluded that the hack had been carried out by two groups associated with Russian intelligence. And in July, top U.S. officials were confirming that Russians were behind the illegal attack on the DNC.

So why the media rush to do Russia’s bidding in 2016? I’ve tweeted this many times, but if anyone thinks the same journalists and the same news outlets would have gorged on stolen Trump emails in 2016 if they had been hacked by Iranian government operatives, I know of a bridge that’s for sale in Brooklyn. That scenario simply is not conceivable because the press would have instantly backed down to right-wing objections and claims the press was aiding and abetting an American foe and helping Iranians interfere in a U.S. election.

But with Clinton, the press wallowed in an unmistakable amusement as they pretended the benign emails pulled back the curtain and offered an unvarnished look at her. (They did not, unless you count risotto recipes as being an unvarnished look.) What unfolded in 2016 was comically breathless coverage of the emails, even though those pushing the hacked material often conceded that none of the emails revealed stunning information. After the campaign, the Times itself conceded that news organizations became “a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence” by publishing so many stories on the hacked emails.

The dirty little secret is that everyone in the D.C. press thought Clinton was going to win, and because there was a strange personal animus toward her, the press seemed to see its job as making sure she limped across the finish line and that her historic win be as unenjoyable as possible. The hacked emails provided a perfect vehicle for that harassment campaign.

Three prominent researchers who documented Russia’s propaganda success in 2016 recently urged journalists to rethink how they treat hacked emails delivered by Russian intelligence. “Newsrooms should carefully consider how the volume of their coverage might be manipulated by strategic leaks,” stressed Renee DiResta, Michael McFaul and Alex Stamos. “Most importantly, they need to break the cycle of amplifying disinformation by “covering the controversy.”

That’s sage advice. Here’s some more for 2020: Don’t follow the lead of bad actors like Roger Stone.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.

Fox News Effort To Discredit Every Impeachment Witness Will Fail

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos.

Will playing whack-a-mole help save the Trump presidency?

That’s what Fox News and Donald Trump defenders have been reduced to in recent weeks as the White House and its media allies scramble to try to find a coherent defense for his admitted campaign collusion with a foreign power. (This time, it’s attempted collusion with Ukraine.) More than a month into this unraveling story, Fox News is trying its best to protect Trump by attacking key players from within the administration who have come forward with damaging information during the impeachment inquiry. Going on the offensive and smearing honorable people is one of Fox News’ favorite pastimes: It’s the engine that fuels the whole propaganda enterprise. But this time it’s not going to work, simply because there are too many witnesses offering up too much damaging information for Fox News and the conservative media to combat.

To date, those officials have included the anonymous whistleblower, whose initial complaint sparked impeachment. They also include U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, and George P. Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, among others.

For Fox News, that’s a hit list that’s simply too long to corral and to take aim at.

In the end, Vindman by himself is not going to matter. Taylor’s not going to matter. Sondland’s not going to matter. Nor is Volker, or Kent.  Even the whistleblower isn’t going to matter. In the end, it’s going to be the collective that delivers the big blow to Trump. It’s going to be the kaleidoscope of administration officials who all tell the exact same story of Trump-sanctioned bribery, and holding up U.S. foreign aid to a foreign power in exchange for digging up dirt on Trump’s political opponents.

For now, the strategy appears to be to claim that up is down and black is white, and to insist all new damning revelations exonerate Trump. Or, in the case of reliable Trump apologist Sen. Lindsay Graham, he’s simply going to ignore all new information. “I’ve written off the whole process,” Graham told a reporter this week. It’s a deeply cultish way to deal with the emerging crisis.

Taking their cues from Fox News, the entire Trump defense is now based on wholesale lies and rattled conspiracy theories. They believe the Ukraine whistleblower is a “traitor.” And they believe Democrats are trying to pull off a “coup.” This is all part of Fox News’ larger problem since the Ukraine impeachment story broke more than a month ago: Nobody has a coherent defense for misdeeds that Trump has publicly admitted to.

Last week, the troubles multiplied when Sondland changed his story. A major Trump donor-turned-diplomat, Sondland had given Trump and his defenders a thin layer of political cover by claiming, both in texts and to Congress, that Trump had claimed there was “no quid pro quo” offered to Ukraine to prompt the probes. But when others inside the administration contradicted Sondland, raising the specter that he had lied to Congress, the ambassador quickly returned to Capitol Hill, refreshed his memory, and changed his story, conceding that foreign aide to Ukraine was contingent on the government helping out Trump. That kicked down the doors to the White House’s defense, and intensified the Fox News attacks on key witnesses and players. Sen. Graham soon showed up on Fox News claiming Sondland was in cahoots with Democrats.

Meanwhile, after initially being the target of right-wing media wrath in late September when the Ukraine scandal first broke, the whistleblower has since returned as a constant target of Fox News attacks, particularly as GOP partisans scurry around working to unmask his or her identity.

“We are now looking down the barrel of yet another national crisis, clearly orchestrated by the deep state,” Sean Hannity recently warned. “The conspiracy theory was also elevated across multiple other Fox personalities in the last two days, including Greg Gutfeld and Mark Levin,” Media Matters noted.

Late last month, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor also gave damning testimony to Congress, detailing the White House’s efforts to withhold military aid in exchange for Ukraine investigating Trump’s political rivals. On Fox Business, host Lou Dobbs asked, “What’s the big deal?” about Taylor’s testimony, while guest Sidney Powell agreed that Democrats “keep trying to make things up as they go” and claimed they are “absolutely grasping for straws.”

According to Media Matters, Fox contributor Dan Bongino dismissed Taylor’s testimony and falsely claimed that it revealed there was no quid pro quo, while Fox contributor Newt Gingrich said that he presumes “Taylor doesn’t like Trump’s style and … Taylor disagreed with Trump’s policies,” but “that doesn’t make it impeachable.”

Then last month we saw ugly attacks to smear Vindman, who testified that he objected to Trump’s shadow policy toward Ukraine. He also testified that the transcript to the infamous phone call Trump placed with the Ukraine leader wasn’t accurate, and that efforts to correct the transcript were ignored by the White House. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman said in his statement.

Fox News and others quickly focused on the fact that Vindman was born in Russia and migrated to America from Ukraine to raise doubts about his loyalty to the United States, with Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade stressing that Vindman “has an affinity to the Ukrainian people,” and that Vindman “tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine.”

Character assassination is what Fox News does. The problem for Trump when it comes to the impeachment scandal is that Fox News has too many characters it needs to assassinate.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through the Daily Kos freelance program.

IMAGE: Fox News host Sean Hannity (Media Matters graphic).