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“Why The Media Can’t Tell The Truth About Donald Trump’s Lies”: Fact-Checking Rains On The Parade Of Media Revenue Models

On Sunday afternoon, Donald Trump retweeted an objective lie. The lie claimed that 81 percent of murdered white people are killed by black people. In truth, 84 percent of murdered white people are murdered by other white people, almost the exact opposite the claim. Not only were the statistics wrong, but the tweet cited the “Crime Statistics Bureau—San Francisco.”

This organization doesn’t exist.

The bureau was the creation of a white supremacist on Twitter, advancing a racist meme with a  lie. Trump hasn’t taken down the tweet, apologized, or even acknowledged it.

But because of the way the Internet values its information, Donald Trump lied again, and he will once again get away with it.

Here were the headlines from mainstream outlets about Trump’s entirely made up piece of information:

“Trump Tweet on Black Crime Sets Off Firestorm,” wrote Fox News.

“Fact Checking Donald Trump’s Questionable ‘USA Crime Statistics’ Tweet Broken Down by Race,” wrote the New York Daily News.

“Trump Takes Heat for Tweet About Black Murder Rates,” wrote The Hill.

Noticeably absent from these headlines was that Donald Trump’s tweet was entirely fabricated. The Hill’s doesn’t even dig into the credibility of the statistics until the ninth paragraph.

Donald Trump lied. And yet traditional news organizations can’t or won’t call him that in the name of “objectivity”—appearing to favor one party over another—even if one candidate is spreading a rumor that unfairly maligns an entire race.

“The incentive for candidates [to lie] is that most media outlets don’t have the resources to check for accuracy immediately, but since the U.S. news media is based on the commercial model—and more eyeballs on the page or the screen is good for business—the networks love it when someone like Donald Trump says outrageous stuff,” Michelle Amazeen, an assistant communications professor at Rider University, told The Daily Beast.

“Fact-checking rains on the parade of that revenue model.”

Amazeen co-authored a study for the American Press Institute that largely had great things to say about fact-checking. Prevalent fact-checking operations like Politifact or FactCheck.org do, in fact, serve as a deterrent for candidates who are thinking about lying during an election cycle, she and her co-authors found.

But when a candidate figures out that he can say whatever he wants in order to advance a narrative and can have immediate benefits—and knowingly exploits it—all bets are off.

“Beyond being ineffective, correcting claims about a highly controversial issue can actually backfire. People who are diehard believers hold their beliefs even more firmly when those beliefs are challenged,” Amazeen wrote earlier this year in The Washington Post.

“We know that a lot of people don’t even read past the first sentence, so the initial information gets passed around and, unfortunately, there’s not much stopping them,” Amazeen told The Daily Beast. “Fact-checking is spreading, but not nearly as fast as that first information.”

As Poynter’s Craig Silverman once put it, “Initial, inaccurate information will be retweeted more than any subsequent correction.”

Trump’s candidacy turned misinformation into ammunition in just four easy steps.

First, say or tweet an incorrect piece of information, knowing any network that calls you on it will be dubbed partial by one of the two political parties.

Two, watch as mainstream news outlets write about the controversy of your statements—as the right and left line up on predictable sides—but not call you out on it. The stories will often present an objective fact-check, placed with seemingly equal weight to what one of your supporters feels is true. “Objectivity” and “balance” means treating someone who is factually wrong, even lying, the same as the person who is right and honest.

Three, fire up your base when one news organization dares to disobey the second rule. Call them “biased,” “failing,” or “unfair.”

Four, watch your Q rating soar!

And Trump’s campaign is built on lies more than any other in recent memory.

“This cycle is very different with the number of flat-out wrong claims,” said Angie Drobnic-Holan, editor-in-chief of Politifact. “Some of our fact-checks are not all clear cut. Some are in the mostly true range, and that’s fine. But this year, the amount of things that did not or could not have happened? Just go through our ‘Pants On Fire’ section. You’ll see way more examples than in previous years.”

Politifact’s “Pants On Fire” designation is reserved for the most severe, unbelievable lies told by politicians on any side of the aisle.

“Take Donald Trump’s scorecard and compare it to Michele Bachmann or Mitt Romney at this time [in the election cycle]. Bachmann is probably the closest parallel, because she said some very provocative things that turned out to be completely wrong,” she said. “It’s not even close. And she only won the Ames poll, then that was it. He’s different.”

Even by 2016 standards, Trump is lapping the field in “Pants On Fires.”

“Tell you what: Look at Jeb Bush’s scorecard. Look at Marco Rubio’s scorecard. Anybody’s. If you’re a politician, and you’re talking about controversial things, odds are you’ll say something wacky at some point,” she said. “But they don’t look anything like Donald Trump’s.”

On a basic human level, too, Drobnic-Holan can see how this kind of thing goes uncovered by beat reporters and mainstream media. Journalists are tired. They can’t check everything right away when they’re on deadline. But writing a story about a controversy over a piece of misinformation one already knows is untrue, and not reporting it that way?

“If you’re repeating information that you know to be wrong without letting your readers know, then you’re doing them a disservice,” she said. “That’s the most vital service we provide, don’t you think? Is that controversial?”

It shouldn’t be, but it is.

The radio silence on Trump’s lies may have a direct and lasting effect on the country, too.

“These claims get repeated down ballot,” said Amazeen. “Governors, judges, dog catchers.”

So how can we stop it?

“We need to re-examine what our news media are doing. We need to find a way to get readers to value the content,” she said.

That means driving news outlets away from placing objectively true information next to feelings about what happened in an effort to shield themselves from the ridicule of one side. That ridicule, in the current economy of the Internet, could lead to a loss of unique visitors—the thing that matters most to advertisers on the Web. News companies, one way or another, need to keep the lights on.

A better way of monetizing the news is coming (like paid subscriptions), but until then candidates like Trump can revel in a mostly controversy-first, fact-second news cycle.

“Fact checking is spreading, but not nearly as fast as the misinformation before it. This is what journalists are supposed to be doing,” said Amazeen. “Journalism has been gutted over the years because it’s not making the money that it used to make. We’ve had a hollowing out of journalism.”

Drobnic-Holan sees a better future. She says her site is being cited more frequently this time around, that there’s a real appetite for it in the 2016 race.

“I really take seriously we’re independent, that we’re not taking sides, that we’re not making a judgment on the overall candidacy of a specific candidate, just their facts,” she said. “We’re trying to provide information for voters to inform the voters, then let the process play out.”

But shouldn’t everybody be doing that? Isn’t that just what journalism is? Isn’t fact checking the whole thing—not just the eighth paragraph underneath the controversy?

“I think so. I think people are starting to see how powerful this form of journalism is,” she says. “That if a journalist’s not fact checking, they’re not doing their jobs.”

 

By: Ben Collins, The Daily Beast, November 24, 2015

November 25, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Journalism, Mainstream Media, White Supremacists | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Perils Of Circus Politics”: Circus Politics May Be Fun To Watch, But It’s Profoundly Dangerous For America And The World

The next president of the United States will confront a virulent jihadist threat, mounting effects of climate change, and an economy becoming ever more unequal.

We’re going to need an especially wise and able leader.

Yet our process for choosing that person is a circus, and several leading candidates are clowns.

How have we come to this?

First, anyone with enough ego and money can now run for president.

This wasn’t always the case. Political parties used to sift through possible candidates and winnow the field.

Now the parties play almost no role. Anyone with some very wealthy friends can set up a Super PAC. According to a recent New York Times investigation, half the money to finance the 2016 election so far has come from just 158 families.

Or if you’re a billionaire, you can finance your own campaign.

And if you’re sufficiently outlandish, outrageous, and outspoken, a lot of your publicity will be free. Since he announced his candidacy last June, Trump hasn’t spent any money at all on television advertising.

Second, candidates can now get away with saying just about anything about their qualifications or personal history, even if it’s a boldface lie.

This wasn’t always the case, either. The media used to scrutinize what candidates told the public about themselves.

A media expose could bring a candidacy to a sudden halt (as it did in 1988 for Gary Hart, who had urged reporters to follow him if they didn’t believe his claims of monogamy).

But when today’s media expose a candidates lies, there seems to be no consequence. Carson’s poll numbers didn’t budge after revelations he had made up his admission to West Point.

The media also used to evaluate candidates’ policy proposals, and those evaluations influenced voters.

Now the media’s judgments are largely shrugged off. Trump says he’d “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, round up all undocumented immigrants in the United States and send them home, and erect a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexican border.

Editors and columnists find these proposals ludicrous but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Fiorina says she’ll stop Planned Parenthood from “harvesting” the brains of fully formed fetuses. She insists she saw an undercover video of the organization about to do so.

The media haven’t found any such video but no one seems to care.

Third and finally, candidates can now use hatred and bigotry to gain support.

Years ago respected opinion leaders stood up to this sort of demagoguery and brought down the bigots.

In the 1950s, the eminent commentator Edward R. Murrow revealed Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy to be a dangerous incendiary, thereby helping put an end to McCarthy’s communist witch hunts.

In the 1960s, religious leaders and university presidents condemned Alabama Governor George C. Wallace and other segregationist zealots – thereby moving the rest of America toward integration, civil rights, and voting rights.

But when today’s presidential candidates say Muslim refugees shouldn’t be allowed into America, no Muslim should ever be president, and undocumented workers from Mexico are murderers, they get away with it.

Paradoxically, at a time when the stakes are especially high for who becomes the next president, we have a free-for-all politics in which anyone can become a candidate, put together as much funding as they need, claim anything about themselves no matter how truthful, advance any proposal no matter how absurd, and get away bigotry without being held accountable.

Why? Americans have stopped trusting the mediating institutions that used to filter and scrutinize potential leaders on behalf of the rest of us.

Political parties are now widely disdained.

Many Americans now consider the “mainstream media” biased.

And no opinion leader any longer commands enough broad-based respect to influence a majority of the public.

A growing number of Americans have become convinced the entire system is rigged – including the major parties, the media, and anyone honored by the establishment.

So now it’s just the candidates and the public, without anything in between.

Which means electoral success depends mainly on showmanship and self-promotion.

Telling the truth and advancing sound policies are less important than trending on social media.

Being reasonable is less useful than gaining attention.

Offering rational argument is less advantageous than racking up ratings.

Such circus politics may be fun to watch, but it’s profoundly dangerous for America and the world.

We might, after all, elect one of the clowns.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, November 17, 2015

November 23, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Journalism, Mainstream Media, Political Parties | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Waiting For The Media’s Benghazi Mea Culpa”: The Press Sponsored The GOP Charade For Years

Talk about a wild pendulum swing.

After relentlessly attacking and mocking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for much of 2015, often depicting her as a hapless and phony pol, the Beltway press wrecking ball dramatically reversed direction last week when pundits and reporters announced the Democratic frontrunner had performed valiantly in front the Benghazi Select Committee.

I’ve been watching Clinton press coverage, on and off, for close to two decades, and I honestly cannot remember a time when the Beltway press corps — so often suspicious and openly critical of Hillary Clinton — was so united in its praise for her and so contemptuous of her partisan pursuers:

Benghazi Has Become A Political Trap From Which Republicans Cannot Escape [Vox]

The Benghazi Hearings Sham [Slate]

The Benghazi Hearing Farce [Time]

Hillary Had A Lovely Benghazi Day [Daily Beast]

Benghazi Bust [Washington Examiner]

The GOP’s Unfortunate Benghazi Hearing [Washington Post]

Benghazi Committee Gives Hillary Clinton Presidential Platform [ABC News]

Trey Gowdy Just Elected Hillary Clinton President [Rolling Stone]

On and on and on it went, as the rave reviews for Clinton poured in and the Republican catcalls mounted. (Committee chairman Trey Gowdy must be seeing those headlines in his sleep by now.)

I’m in heated agreement with virtually all of the analysis that found fault with the Benghazi witch hunt. (“What, exactly, is the point of this committee?”) Indeed, much of the biting commentary echoes Benghazi points Media Matters has been making for three years. But my question now is this: What took the press so long, and when will the press pause and reflect on the central role it played in producing the GOP witch hunt?

I don’t want to punish good behavior by criticizing the press for now accurately portraying the Benghazi pursuit as a fraud. (That’s why I recently urged the media to break up with the Benghazi committee.) But it might be nice amidst the avalanche of Benghazi Is Bogus pronouncements if folks in the press took time to admit the media’s part in the unfortunate charade.

To hear many pundits and observers describe the Benghazi collapse, Republicans — and Republicans only — are to blame, and they’re the ones who overplayed the pseudoscandal and tried to hype it as a blockbuster.

Much of the press is presenting a view from above: Here’s what Republicans did and here’s why it failed. Missing from the analysis is, ‘Here’s how the press helped facilitate the Republican failure for many, many years.’ The media want to pretend they haven’t been players in this drama.

Sorry, that’s not quite right. For years, Republicans often found willing partners in the Beltway press who were also eager and willing to overplay Benghazi and play it as a blockbuster scandal. The press cannot, and should not, simply whitewash the very important role it played, even though that muddles the media’s preferred storyline of How Republicans Botched Benghazi.

I realize that immediately examining the media’s role in this story might not be a priority for editors and producers. But I also realize what’s likely to happen is this window of opportunity for self-reflection will soon close and the press will once again fail to hold itself accountable for its often reckless behavior in marketing a bogus Republican-fueled “scandal.”

Here’s a concrete example: Lara Logan and her completely flawed Benghazi report that aired on 60 Minutes in 2013. Preparing the unsound report, Logan reportedly met behind the scenes with one of the GOP’s most vociferous Benghazi crusaders, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) According to a report in New York magazine, Graham helped shape the CBS Benghazi story. When the 60 Minutes segment aired, he immediately cheered it on, calling it a “death blow” to the White House and announced he’d block every White House appointee until he got more answers about Benghazi.

Then when huge holes began to appear in the story, as one of Logan sources was revealed as a fraud, “Logan called Graham and asked for help,” New York reported. (Note to reporters: When your sources have to make stuff up about Benghazi, it’s a pretty good indication the ‘scandal’ is lacking.)

It’s true that Logan’s example was an extreme one. But the press is kidding itself if it’s going to pretend Republicans didn’t recruit lots and lots of journalists to help tell the GOP’s preferred Benghazi ‘scandal’ story over the last three years.

Thankfully, some prominent journalists have recently shone a spotlighting on the press’ Benghazi failings. “The real losers here are the reporters and centrist pundits who let themselves be played, month after month, by Trey Gowdy and company,” wrote The New York Times’Paul Krugman.

Today, there’s broad media consensus that the Benghazi Select Committee is wasteful and unnecessary. But that was utterly predictable last year when the eighth investigation was formed. At the time, many in the press brushed aside Democratic objections. (Try to imagine the media response if Democrats had demanded eight separate 9/11 commissions under President George W. Bush.)

Why the nonchalance? Because the press, I’m guessing, liked the idea of a standing Congressional committee to chase Clinton, to possibly wreak havoc on her campaign, and to leak gotcha stories to eager reporters.

By raising so few doubts about the absurdity of creating yet another Benghazi inquisition last year, the press helped fuel the charade that unfolded last week. It’s time to own up to the unpleasant truth.

 

By: Eric Boelert, Senior Fellow, Media Matters for America, October 26, 2015

October 28, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Journalism | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Credulous Times”: Grasping At Straws In The Wind, What Has Happened To Journalism At The New York Times?

If you are a regular reader of the New York Times, and tend to think of it not just as a Newspaper of Record, but as an institution with unimpeachable standards of journalistic objectivity and excellence, you might want to give a gander to a scathing piece by New America’s Peter Bergen at CNN about the New York Times Magazine cover story suggesting the official story of Osama bin Laden’s assassination was a pack of trumped-up lies. Seems its author, Jonathan Mahler, is largely buying a conspiracy theory hatched by the famed muckraking journalist Seymour Hersh back in the spring, which was pretty thoroughly challenged at the time–by among others Bergen, who wrote a well-regarded book on the pursuit and killing of bin Laden.

[A]s I wrote in May when Hersh’s story first appeared, his account of the bin Laden raid is a farrago of nonsense that is contravened by a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense.

As Berger notes, both Hersh and Mahler paint a picture of US-Pakistani complicity in a handover of bin Laden followed by a deliberately fabricated “firefight” that contradicts other Times reporters who cover Pakistan and the U.S. intelligence community.

Among those sharing in the Big Lie of bin Laden’s capture and assassination if these lurid tales are true, of course, is not only the President of the United States but his most likely Democratic successor, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

One of those supposed liars would also be the woman who may well be the next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton. By the way, give her an Oscar for acting for her performance when the iconic photograph was taken at the White House as the bin Laden raid went down, the one in which Clinton has her hand over her mouth in disbelief and anxiety so uncertain was the outcome of the raid.

Hmmm. Seems like there’s another recent line of reporting at the Times that is focused on showing that Hillary Clinton’s an untrustworthy liar, eh?

I don’t know that there’s a connection, but without question, certain elements at the Times are showing some surprising credulity at any straws in the wind that can be used to build the facade of a case against Obama and Clinton.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 19, 2015

October 20, 2015 Posted by | Journalism, Journalists, The New York Times | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Gross Failures In Journalism”: The Media Needs To Get Over Its Blind Hatred Of Hillary Clinton

Last week, Hillary Clinton got in one of her periodic fights with the press, extending a long-running battle that has been raging for decades now. In the media corner was The New York Times, which beclowned itself with a false report alleging that Clinton was about to be the subject of a criminal inquiry over emails she sent while at the State Department.

The episode is the latest evidence that the Times needs to take a hard look at its Clinton coverage. But there’s also a lesson here for the broader mainstream media, which needs to get over its blind hatred of the Clintons. It not only leads to gross failures in journalism, but ends up being a massive distraction from the actual scrutiny Hillary Clinton deserves.

It’s worth noticing what a stupendous journalistic faceplant this was. As Kevin Drum points out, pretty much every single word in the original headline was wrong:

Clinton was not a target. The referral was not criminal. The emails in question had not been classified at the time Clinton saw them. When the dust settled, it appeared that the whole thing was little more than a squabble between State and CIA over whether certain emails that State is releasing to the public should or shouldn’t be classified. In other words, just your garden-variety bureaucratic dispute. [Mother Jones]

This isn’t the first time the Times has printed a gravely mistaken story suggesting ethical lapses on the part of a Clinton running for president. Back in 1992, Times reporter Jeff Gerth wrote a story about how the Clintons were involved in a seemingly shady real estate deal called Whitewater. It suggested that the Clintons had gotten a big share of potential profits without putting up much cash, and that Bill Clinton had used his power as Arkansas governor to protect a savings and loan owned by a Whitewater associate from being closed down by the feds.

Just as with the most recent story, about every part of Gerth’s account was wrong or misleading, as Joe Conason and Gene Lyons wrote in their book on the Clinton impeachment, The Hunting of the President. The Clintons actually lost a ton of money on the deal, and the Arkansas government had recommended to the feds that the S&L be liquidated.

But that was only the start of hundreds of Whitewater articles and reports. The political press ditched any notion of objectivity and pursued the Clintons with a deranged, prudish zealotry. These journalists never actually revealed any concrete wrongdoing, but the incessant repetition convinced many that the Clintons must have done something wrong — which eventually led to the appointment of a special prosecutor. The rest is history.

Not much has changed. Much of the centrist press still quite obviously loathes the Clintons. Ron Fournier, the id of centrism, knocks her PR strategy (that is, writing a devastating, accurate takedown of the Times report), insists where there’s smoke there’s fire, and generally makes dim excuses to keep hounding her.

On the other hand, the Times’ atrocious report was caught out almost immediately. Unlike the 90s, there is a reasonably powerful left-leaning press today, and fact-checking can spread rapidly through social media. It is much harder to get away with that kind of lazy hack job on a prominent candidate.

It’s hard to figure out how the Times could have been so incredibly sloppy. But I suspect the traditional media suspicion of the Clintons played a big role. The Clintons’ reputation is so bad that reporters tend to discard their vaunted skepticism the moment a bad piece of news about them comes over the transom.

And that, as we see, leads to disastrous mistakes. A story that confirms a strong prior belief is exactly the point at which journalists ought to be at their most skeptical.

And perhaps more importantly, this annoying, narcissistic media spectacle is proving to be an enormous distraction from the important task of actually reporting on Hillary Clinton. There are all manner of things to cover, from her poor choice in advisers, to her foreign policy views, and yes, even the deleted emails from her years at the State Department. Just make sure to actually, you know, check the facts before hitting publish.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, August 3, 2015

August 4, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Journalism, Media | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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