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“He Has A History”: As Journalists, Let Us Not Tiptoe Around Trump, The Nominee

Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, and now journalists must decide how to cover him.

How do we reconcile the carnival act he’s been with the seriousness of what is now at stake?

Do we cast him as a man equal to the gravitas of the position he seeks instead of the guy, for example, who proudly harangued President Barack Obama for proof that he was born in Hawaii?

Do we cover him as the contender with a suddenly measured tone without also reminding voters of his long habit of misogynist commentary? For another example, commentary such as this about Rosie O’Donnell: “I’d look her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say, ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’” Or this, about Megyn Kelly after she dared remind him during the first Republican debate that he has called women he doesn’t like “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals”: Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever.”

“Women,” Trump has said, “you have to treat them like sh-t.”

Yes, I’ve written about this before. And yes, I will continue to write about it. How can we possibly pretend Trump never said stuff like this — that it doesn’t really matter — and expect any thinking American to take us seriously?

I’m going to watch this coverage with the fierce focus of a hound on the hunt, and I am confident that I will not be the only columnist or the only woman to do so. As I’ve written a number of times in recent months, this is not the misogyny of the 2008 campaign, but only because so many of us women are older now and we are so done with this.

This morning, by the way, I listened as several male panelists on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” talked about how Hillary Clinton is so unlikable compared with garrulous Trump. I heard this on satellite radio as I drove to work. I don’t recommend doing that if you want to have any faith in Beltway punditry or if you have an interest in driving within the lines. To quote my friend Joanna Kuebler, it’s as if they start their day with a heaping bowl of testosteroni.

It is one thing to cover Trump as the Republican nominee. It is quite another to pretend that he isn’t the same man who has repeatedly used the language of misogyny — and racism and xenophobia, too. He refused to rebuke an endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. He told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that women should “face some sort of punishment” for getting legal abortions. He said Muslims should be banned from entering our country. He has a history, this man, this billionaire reality TV star, and it must follow him every day of this presidential race.

As I pointed out in a public post on Facebook earlier this week, I understand the challenges of reporting about Trump, one of which is to avoid appearing as if we’re punishing him for hating us. He openly disdains the media and enjoys inciting crowds to mock journalists at his rallies. We tread a fine line in describing his behavior without looking as if we are taking it personally.

Add to that problem some editors who can be too quick to temper their reporters’ coverage to avoid another avalanche of outrage from Trump fans. This tentativeness chips away at the sharp edges of journalism while accomplishing nothing in the way of placating our critics. A person who loves Trump has no use for us anyway. Why are we worried about defending the truth to people who’ve decided they’re so over that?

I ask that we journalists not tiptoe around the obvious hallmarks of who Donald Trump is. He may attempt to dial back the rhetoric, but that doesn’t change who we know him to be.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Professional in Residence at Kent State University’s School of Journalism; The National Memo, May 5, 2016

May 6, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Journalism, Journalists, Reporters | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Creative Video Editing”: In 2016, Journalistic Fraud Still Looms Large

Alas, this is pretty much where I came in. Starting in 1994, when your humble, obedient servant was approached to contribute weekly political columns, I found the behavior of the national political press shocking and alarming.

Today, it’s even worse.

Even so, it’s not every day a TV talker apologizes for broadcasting a doctored video misrepresenting something Bill Clinton said about President Obama. So it’s definitely worth taking note.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes did that the other night, at least temporarily persuading me that the network hasn’t yet gone full Fox News.

But first, some ancient history on a theme directly relevant to today’s Democratic primary campaign: Hillary the Big Liar.

See, by 1994 I’d been writing professionally for years, mainly as a literary journalist and monthly magazine reporter. The publications I’d written for employed assiduous fact-checkers. Opinions were expected, so long as they were grounded in fact. After all, what’s the point winning an argument if you’ve got to cheat to do it?

However, that’s not how Washington journalism works. One incident in particular astonished me.

In April 1994, Hillary Clinton had given a press conference about the make-believe Whitewater scandal. She answered every question the press threw at her for a couple of hours. The immediate effect was rather like last fall’s Benghazi hearings: her detailed answers calmed the storm. Having previously given sworn testimony to Treasury Department investigators probing Jim McDougal’s failed S & L, she was on solid ground.

Two years further on, ABC’s Nightline dug up a video clip of an answer she’d given about a specific issue and seamlessly deleted two sentences by substituting stock footage of journalists taking notes. Then they pretended she’d been asked a much broader question, and accused her of lying about the information they’d subtracted.

Specifically, Hillary acknowledged signing a letter “because I was what we called the billing attorney” for the Madison Guaranty account. Nightline charged her with concealing exactly that fact. Jeff Greenfield said no wonder “the White House was so worried about what was in Vince Foster’s office when he killed himself”—a contemptible insinuation.

Within days, the doctored quote was all over ABC News, CNN, the New York Times and everywhere else. Almost needless to say, Maureen Dowd ran with it. William Safire predicted her imminent criminal indictment.

In short, the theme of Hillary Clinton as epic liar began with an instance of barefaced journalistic fraud.

Everybody involved should have been run out of the profession. It wasn’t exactly an obscure mystery. Video of the press conference existed. The New York Times had printed the full transcript.

But there was no Internet. Beltway pundits covered for each other like crooked cops.

So anyway, last week Bill Clinton made a campaign appearance for his wife in Memphis. If you’d only seen it on MSNBC or read about it in the Washington Post, you’d think he made a political blunder, trashing President Obama as a weak leader.

On Chris Hayes’ program All In, the host chided the former President for going “a bit off message.”

MSNBC aired this video clip:

“BILL CLINTON: She’s always making something good happen. She’s the best change maker I’ve ever known. A lot of people say, ‘Oh well, you don’t understand. It’s different now. It’s rigged.’ Yeah, it’s rigged—because you don’t have a president who is a change maker.”

Full stop.

Ouch! To the Washington Post’s Abby Phillips, “it sounded like he was agreeing with one of [Bernie] Sanders’s central arguments about income inequality—but blaming the sitting president for it.”

Older and thinner, Mr. Yesterday was clearly losing it.

Except he wasn’t. The real villain was, once again, creative video editing. Tommy Christopher at Mediaite.com restored the full context.

So here’s what Bill Clinton actually said about President Obama:

“Yeah, it’s rigged—because you don’t have a president who is a change maker with a Congress who will work with him. But the president has done a better job than he has gotten credit for. And don’t you forget it!

(APPLAUSE)

Don’t you forget it! Don’t you forget it!

(LOUDER APPLAUSE)

Don’t you forget it. Let me just tell you. I’ve been there, and we shared the same gift. We only had a Democratic Congress for two years. And then we lost it. There’s some of the loudest voices in our party say—it’s unbelievable—say, ‘Well the only reason we had it for two years is that President Obama wasn’t liberal enough!’ Is there one soul in this crowd that believes that?”

Judging by the crowd response, there was not.

Mediaite.com’s Christopher put it succinctly: “This is an edit so egregious, it rivals the worst in dishonest political ads, and surpasses them.”

Greatly to his credit (and my surprise), Chris Hayes subsequently rebroadcast Clinton’s remarks in full. “We shouldn’t have done that,” he admitted.

No, they certainly should not.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Journalism, Network and Cable News | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Fool Me Twice, New York Times…”: Long Past Time People Started Saying The Washington Bureau Has A Serious Problem?

In my experience, you can fool a golden retriever exactly twice with the old hidden ball trick. Our late dog Big Red was as exuberant an animal as ever lived. I used to say that if he wasn’t wet, cold, and hungry, Red was happy.

Then I had to rescue him from the Arkansas River during a sleet storm. He’d plunged in to chase ducks but couldn’t clamber back up the steep, slippery bank on his own. Coated in mud with icicles hanging from his coat, Red remained optimistic. See, after his walk came supper. His eyes shone like a puppy’s all the way home.

Anyway, that dog would fetch his beloved tennis ball until your arm ached from throwing it. Prank him with a fake toss and he’d charge off and search eagerly before returning with a quizzical look. A second fake drew less assiduous searching. After that, he kept his eyes riveted on your hand. No fooling him anymore.

It will be seen that Big Red would have been overqualified to edit The New York Times. Responding to the Washington bureau’s latest embarrassing front page blunder, Times executive editor Dean Baquet appeared to agree with the newspaper’s public editor Margaret Sullivan that something needed to be done about “the rampant use of anonymous sources” who turned out to be blowing smoke, or worse.

A second senior editor, Matt Purdy, offered an alibi when he claimed, “We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong… That’s an explanation, not an excuse. We have an obligation to get facts right and we work very hard to do that.”

Reporters Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt were absolved from blame. They’d simply written down what their excellent sources told them.

OK, that was a ball fake.

The above quotes don’t actually appear in public editor Sullivan’s analysis of the latest New York Times bogus blockbuster. They’re actually taken from her July 27 article headlined “A Clinton Story Fraught With Inaccuracies: How It Happened and What Next?”

Perhaps you remember “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email” — at least that was the original headline. Reporters Schmidt and Apuzzo had cited “senior government officials” hinting that the former secretary of state was in immediate legal peril.

Except, uh-oh, “virtually everything about the story turned out to be wrong. Clinton was not a target. The referral was not criminal. And as the story itself noted, the emails in question had most likely not been classified at the time Clinton saw them.”

It was, in short, a total journalistic failure, although you can still hear pundits predicting Hillary’s imminent indictment in the non-existent criminal probe.

(I’ve lost track of how often Kenneth Starr acolytes in the Washington media had Mrs. Clinton measured for an orange prison jumpsuit during the phony “Whitewater” investigation. Check out Joe Conason’s and my ebook The Hunting of Hillary for details.)

The newspaper’s latest embarrassing failure, involving as it does a matter of national security, is far more significant. “U.S. Visa Process Missed San Bernardino Wife’s Online Zealotry,” a December 12 front page headline read. But once again, the Times came up far short.

This time, ace reporters Schmidt and Apuzzo had found unnamed “American law enforcement officials” who claimed that San Bernardino terrorist Tashfeen Malik had “talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad,” and that feckless US immigration officials had failed to check her Facebook page. The implication was clear: Had they done so fourteen innocent Americans might still be alive.

Once again, however, the secret insiders were wrong. There was nothing open about Tashfeen Malik’s crazed musings. Written in Urdu under a pseudonym, as FBI director James B. Comey subsequently made clear, they’d been sent as private messages not visible to the public. No way investigators could have found them without a search warrant.

Evidently, The Times’ trusted sources (the same individuals?) didn’t know enough about how Facebook and similar social media sites work to be aware of these issues. Reporters and editors seemingly didn’t know enough to ask.

Also once again, the newspaper dragged its feet for most of a week before admitting error. Absent the insistence of Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple, it might never have done so. The Times’ stalling also had the effect of giving Republican presidential candidates time to falsely blame everything on Obama administration’s imagined “political correctness.”

For his part, Baquet, the executive editor, just back from snuffling in the brush for his lost tennis ball, told Margaret Sullivan that he “rejected the idea that the sources had a political agenda that caused them to plant falsehoods.” He did allow as how she was correct that the Times needed more stringent reporting procedures.

Gosh, you think?

Otherwise, isn’t it past time people started saying out loud that the newspaper’s vaunted Washington bureau has a serious problem?

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, December 23, 2015

December 24, 2015 Posted by | Anonymous Sources, Journalism, The New York Times | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Getting To The Source Of The Lies”: The Fabricated Story About Tashfeen Malik’s Public Facebook Postings

A theme emerged at Tuesday night’s Republican debate that went something like this: because of political correctness, the Obama administration has failed to keep us safe from terror attacks. It was applied in reference to the shooting in San Bernardino by several candidates, including Ted Cruz.

It’s not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks. It is political correctness. We didn’t monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS thought it would be inappropriate. She made a public call to jihad, and they didn’t target it.

That is the story that has become embedded over the last week in the right wing mindset. But as FBI Director James Comey said yesterday, it’s not true.

So far, in this investigation we have found no evidence of posting on social media by either of them at that period in time and thereafter reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom. I’ve seen some reporting on that, and that’s a garble.

There was no major breakdown in security at DHS as a result of political correctness. It’s all about a couple who were inspired by ISIS to go on a killing spree – much as Robert Lewis Dear was inspired to go on a shooting spree at Planned Parenthood by the anti-abortion movement and Dylann Roof was inspired to kill African American church-goers by white supremacists.

But as Kevin Drum reports, there’s more to the story. The question becomes: what was the source for the story about Tashfeen Malik’s public Facebook postings? It was an article in the New York Times titled: U.S. Visa Process Missed San Bernardino Wife’s Zealotry on Social Media. And not only that. As Drum says:

The story was written by Matt Apuzzo, Michael Schmidt, and Julia Preston.

Do those names sound familiar? They should. The first two were also the authors of July’s epic fail claiming that Hillary Clinton was the target of a criminal probe over the mishandling of classified information in her private email system.

Is it merely a coincidence that these two NYT reporters have been fed stories by their sources that are fabricated lies about the dyad the Republican candidates blamed consistently with such disdain Tuesday night – Obama/Clinton? I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But you don’t have to be one to understand why it is important to get an answer to that question.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 17, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Journalism, Journalists, Reporters | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Worst Possible Version Of Himself”: Yeah, MSNBC, Mark Halperin Will Solve All Your Problems

What do the thought leaders in the liberal blogosphere think about Mark Halperin? Well, Markos Moulitsas says he’s “a useless piece of shit who is always wrong about everything,” “has no political acumen,” and has been “engaged in a long-running jihad against the truth.” Duncan Black says that Halperin “sucks ass” and is “proud of the fact that Matt Drudge rules his world.” Gawker’s new boss, Alex Pareene says Halperin is “the world’s laziest dispenser of conventional wisdom” and “the worst hack in America.” Also he’s so bad at what he does that “the most offensive thing about the existence of Mark Halperin is that he’s the worst possible version of himself.” Esquire‘s Charles Pierce says Halperin is one of “the worst two things that have happened to American political journalism in the past 30 years” because “he long ago invented the kind of Beltway insidery railbird bullshit that passes today for analysis.” Heather Digby Parton says that Halperin is “the quintessential Villager, a man who exhales conventional wisdom the way the rest of us exhale carbon dioxide.” Ed Kilgore is especially brutal on this subject:

Mark Halperin is one of the most famous, and certainly one of the most richly remunerated, journalists in Christendom—yet is capable of writing graph after graph and page after page of palpable nonsense, expressing not only an indifference to but an active defiance of any objective evidence that transcends the “insider” information he purveys…

…He writes what Villagers want to read, and is rewarded with unequaled access to their most avaricious thoughts and intentions. And because they do matter in politics, albeit not as much as they would wish, there is a sort of “journalism” going on, but not of the sort that should be taken seriously…

I bring this up because MSNBC wants to do something very silly.

The talks, first reported by New York Magazine, center around rebroadcasting Bloomberg’s 5 p.m. show “With All Due Respect” at 6 p.m. on MSNBC, sources at both networks who are familiar with the discussions said.

“With All Due Respect” is hosted by “Game Change” co-authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, who are regular guests on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

For many at NBC, the idea of rebroadcasting a competitor’s show feels desperate. “Talk about out of ideas,” one on-air talent at MSNBC said. “We’re going to run a rerun of another rival network’s show? As a programming decision that is completely insane.”

That last quote there is pretty easy to put in Rachel Maddow’s mouth, don’t you think?

In any case, who’s the audience for MSNBC’s political programming? Who are their fans? Who do those fans read on the internet? Who do they respect?

And even if much of the MSNBC audience has never heard of weird names like Atrios, BooMan, digby, and kos, they’re still cut from the same kind of cloth. They do not want to listen to Mark Halperin for ten minutes, let alone a full hour. If they don’t already, they will hate Halperin with the white hot heat of a thousand suns.

Maybe the management should ask the greatest blogger of all time, The Rachel Maddow Show producer Steve Benen, what he thinks about airing Mark Halperin Bloomberg reruns at 6 p.m.

Here’s what Benen had to say about Halperin back in August 2008:

It’s difficult to identify with any real certainty the single worst political analysis of the presidential campaign, but if you missed ABC News’ “This Week” yesterday, you missed Time‘s Mark Halperin offering analysis that was so bizarre, it was tempting to think it was intended as satire. Only in this case, Halperin was serious.

So, if this is what MSNBC Chairman Andrew Lack wants to do, he should resign before he humiliates himself and pisses off all the actual talent he’s already assembled.

It’s also unclear that either side would get a significant ratings boost from the deal. MSNBC’s 5 p.m. show, “MTP Daily,” hosted by Chuck Todd, has floundered in the ratings. The show has averaged 499,000 viewers since it launched, and just 65,000 of those viewers are in the coveted 25-to-54 year-old demographic.

But sources at NBC say Lack may be less concerned with ratings than with relevance. Halperin and Heilemann are big names in New York and Washington, and their addition could buy MSNBC a greater stake in the political discussion during the 2016 campaign. To that end, sources said, he may be willing to overlook the hurdles.

Trying to be more relevant by running reruns of Mark Halperin that first aired on a rival network that no one watches?

Good luck with that.

 

By: Martin Longman, Web Editor for the Washington Monthly, November 20, 2015

November 29, 2015 Posted by | Journalism, Mark Halperin, MSNBC | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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