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“Truth And Trumpism”: The News Media Should Do All It Can To Resist False Equivalence And Centrification

How will the news media handle the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? I suspect I know the answer — and it’s going to be deeply frustrating. But maybe, just maybe, flagging some common journalistic sins in advance can limit the damage. So let’s talk about what can and probably will go wrong in coverage — but doesn’t have to.

First, and least harmful, will be the urge to make the election seem closer than it is, if only because a close race makes a better story. You can already see this tendency in suggestions that the startling outcome of the fight for the Republican nomination somehow means that polls and other conventional indicators of electoral strength are meaningless.

The truth, however, is that polls have been pretty good indicators all along. Pundits who dismissed the chances of a Trump nomination did so despite, not because of, the polls, which have been showing a large Trump lead for more than eight months.

Oh, and let’s not make too much of any one poll. When many polls are taken, there are bound to be a few outliers, both because of random sampling error and the biases that can creep into survey design. If the average of recent polls shows a strong lead for one candidate — as it does right now for Mrs. Clinton — any individual poll that disagrees with that average should be taken with large helpings of salt.

A more important vice in political coverage, which we’ve seen all too often in previous elections — but will be far more damaging if it happens this time — is false equivalence.

You might think that this would be impossible on substantive policy issues, where the asymmetry between the candidates is almost ridiculously obvious. To take the most striking comparison, Mr. Trump has proposed huge tax cuts with no plausible offsetting spending cuts, yet has also promised to pay down U.S. debt; meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton has proposed modest spending increases paid for by specific tax hikes.

That is, one candidate is engaged in wildly irresponsible fantasy while the other is being quite careful with her numbers. But beware of news analyses that, in the name of “balance,” downplay this contrast.

This isn’t a new phenomenon: Many years ago, when George W. Bush was obviously lying about his budget arithmetic but nobody would report it, I suggested that if a candidate declared that the earth was flat, headlines would read, “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” But this year it could be much, much worse.

And what about less quantifiable questions about behavior? I’ve already seen pundits suggest that both presumptive nominees fight dirty, that both have taken the “low road” in their campaigns. For the record, Mr. Trump has impugned his rivals’ manhood, called them liars and suggested that Ted Cruz’s father was associated with J.F.K.’s killer. On her side, Mrs. Clinton has suggested that Bernie Sanders hasn’t done his homework on some policy issues. These things are not the same.

Finally, I can almost guarantee that we’ll see attempts to sanitize the positions and motives of Trump supporters, to downplay the racism that is at the heart of the movement and pretend that what voters really care about are the priorities of D.C. insiders — a process I think of as “centrification.”

That is, after all, what happened after the rise of the Tea Party. I’ve seen claims that Tea Partiers were motivated by Wall Street bailouts, or even that the movement was largely about fiscal responsibility, driven by voters upset about budget deficits.

In fact, there was never a hint that any of these things mattered; if you followed the actual progress of the movement, it was always about white voters angry at the thought that their taxes might be used to help Those People, whether via mortgage relief for distressed minority homeowners or health care for low-income families.

Now I’m seeing suggestions that Trumpism is driven by concerns about political gridlock. No, it isn’t. It isn’t even mainly about “economic anxiety.”

Trump support in the primaries was strongly correlated with racial resentment: We’re looking at a movement of white men angry that they no longer dominate American society the way they used to. And to pretend otherwise is to give both the movement and the man who leads it a free pass.

In the end, bad reporting probably won’t change the election’s outcome, because the truth is that those angry white men are right about their declining role. America is increasingly becoming a racially diverse, socially tolerant society, not at all like the Republican base, let alone the plurality of that base that chose Donald Trump.

Still, the public has a right to be properly informed. The news media should do all it can to resist false equivalence and centrification, and report what’s really going on.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 6, 2016

May 8, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Journalists, Media | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“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

“Enough Is Enough”: It’s Time For Reporters To Break Out Of The Trump Rally Press Pens

Is the only thing more shocking than Donald Trump’s campaign manager being charged with simple battery of a reporter the fact that the crime isn’t all that startling, given the bullying campaign’s open contempt for reporters?

Enough is enough.

With Trump’s top aide, Corey Lewandowski, now facing charges, focus has shifted back to the increasingly abusive relationship between the GOP front-runner and the campaign press, and the unprecedented barrage of attacks journalists have faced, including constant insults hurled at them by the candidate himself. (Reporters are “disgusting” “horrible people,” Trump regularly announces.)

Sadly, news organizations have brought some of the degradation on themselves by acquiescing to all kinds of Trump campaign demands, such as the rule that they camp out inside mandatory press pens at events. Basically, the Trump campaign disparages the media, and news organizations do nothing in response — except shower him with even more coverage. (Talk about a win-win for him.)

“For ratings and clicks, they’ve allowed themselves to be penned up like farm animals at his rallies and risked scuffles with the Secret Service for covering the events like actual reporters,” wrote Eliana Johnson at National Review.

In fact, the press pens have become a hallmark of Trump’s war on the press.

“Unlike other presidential campaigns, which generally allow reporters and photographers to move around at events, Trump has a strict policy requiring reporters and cameramen to stay inside a gated area, which the candidate often singles out for ridicule during his speeches,” Time reported.

And Time should know.

In February, a Secret Service agent lifted Time photographer Chris Morris up off the ground and choke-slammed him onto a table after Morris momentarily “stepped out of the press pen to photograph a Black Lives Matter protest that interrupted the speech.”

It’s long past time for journalists to demand their freedom from Trump press pens. It’s like deciding to finally stop taking Trump’s phone-in interviews. Escaping from the pens represents a simple way for news organizations to assert their obvious right to cover the Trump campaign on their own terms, rather than being penned in at campaign events and living in fear of having access denied if coverage is deemed to be too critical.

Covering the Trump campaign on a daily basis today appears to be a rather miserable media existence. Reporters are threatened by staffers, and the Trump communications team seems to be utterly nonresponsive to media inquires. (“There is no Trump press operation,” one reporter told Slate.)

But it’s even worse than that. Just ask CBS News reporter Sopan Deb. In January at a Trump rally in Reno, a Trump supporter demanded to know if Deb was taking pictures on behalf of ISIS. Then, in March, after Trump’s raucous would-be rally in Chicago was canceled, Deb was covering mayhem unfolding on the streets when he was “thrown to the ground by Chicago cops, handcuffed, arrested, and detained in jail.”

I give journalists on the Trump beat credit for trying to make the best of a very bad situation. My question is why aren’t bosses standing up more forcefully for their staffers on the Trump front line? Why aren’t executives saying “enough” to the campaign bullying? And why don’t they take collective action and fix the obvious problems with how the Trump campaign is mistreating the press?

In case you missed it, last year 17 journalists representing scores of news organizations met for two hours in Washington, D.C., because they were so angry with how Hillary Clinton’s campaign was limiting access for journalists.

“The problems discussed were the campaign’s failure to provide adequate notice prior to events, the lack of a clear standard for whether fundraisers are open or closed press and the reflexive tendency to opt to speak anonymously,” The Huffington Post reported.

Looking back, the press’s Clinton complaints seem minor compared to the disrespect and invective the Trump campaign rains down on the press. But at the time, news organizations banded together and insisted that changes be made. (“The Clinton campaign is far less hostile to reporters than Donald Trump’s campaign,” The Huffington Post recently noted.)

So why the relative silence in light of the constant Trump mistreatment of the press? Why did news outlets quickly marshal their forces when Democrat Clinton was the target of criticism, but they apparently do very little when the Republican front-runner is trampling all over the press? Why the obvious double standard for covering Trump and Clinton?

Note that last November, several news organizations discussed their concerns with the Trump campaign. “Representatives from five networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN — discussed their concerns about the Trump campaign restrictions on a Monday conference call, but did not present the campaign with any specific access requests,” according to The Huffington Post.

But very little came of it. “Facing the risk of losing their credentialed access to Trump’s events, the networks capitulated,” BuzzFeed reported.

Indeed, in the wake of that meeting, press pens at Trump rallies have recently become even more restrictive, with longer avenues of exit and entries created to separate journalists even further from rally attendees.

More recently, BuzzFeed reported, “Two network sources also confirmed the unprecedented control the television networks have surrendered to Trump in a series of private negotiations, allowing him to dictate specific details about placement of cameras at his event, to ensure coverage consists primarily of a single shot of his face.”

So yes, news organizations have had behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Trump campaign. But the result has been to let Trump “dictate specific details about place of cameras at his event.”

Just amazing.

And note that it’s not just the press pens. Here’s a list of the news organizations that have had reporters banned from previous Trump events, presumably because the campaign didn’t like the news coverage: The Des Moines Register, Fusion, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, Politico, The Huffington Post, National Review, The Daily Beast, and Univision.

Over and over we’ve seen this pattern play out: Report something negative about Trump and watch your press credentials get yanked. This kind of bullying, of course, is unprecedented for American presidential campaigns. The tactic goes against every principle of a free press, inhibiting the news media’s unique role in our democracy to inform the public, without fear or favor.

Yet to date, I’m not aware of outlets banding together to make concrete ultimatums in response to the Trump campaign’s bullying. Instead of collective action, we get sporadic, nonbinding complaints from editors.

But what kind of signal does that send, other than capitulation?

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, March 31, 2016

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Press, Donald Trump, Journalists, Reporters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Phoning It In And The Media’s Trump Surrender”: The Press Throws In The Towel Before The First Bell Is Even Rung

Tuesday offered a sad but telling snapshot from the Donald Trump campaign trail, capturing how the Republican seems to intimidate the press and how journalists too often bend to his will.

Tuesday morning, Trump was scheduled to appear live on several morning programs, via satellites from his home in Florida. But after Trump reportedly didn’t like the way his remote shots looked on television, he canceled the satellite Q&A’s and simply phoned in his interviews live.

That evening, after winning primaries in Mississippi and Michigan, Trump spoke for more than 40 minutes. His rambling address included a weird pitch for his brand of products (steaks, wines, vodka), many of which he didn’t actually own. The all-news cable channels carried Trump’s performance in its entirety and refused to break away even for a minute to cover any of Hillary Clinton’s primetime address, celebrating her Mississippi victory.

As Trump was leaving his televised address, his campaign manager reportedly grabbed the arm of a Breitbart News reporter who was trying to ask the candidate a question. The reporter, Michelle Fields, was nearly pulled to the ground after being forcibly grabbed. “Fields was clearly roughed up by the move,” a witness told Politico. The Daily Beast reported the encounter left her bruised.

So yes, the day featured all the discouraging telltale signs of the media’s Trump mess. The press allowed him to play by new, call-in rules? Check. The press showered Trump with an unprecedented amount of free, uninterrupted airtime? Check. Members of the press were physically insulted or physically manhandled by Trump and his handlers? Check.

If this Trump vs. the press battle were an actual fight, the referee would’ve stopped it a long, long time ago. Indeed, rather than a bout it’s more like Trump stands in his corner, tapes up his gloves, and the press throws in the towel before the first bell is even rung. And yes, to suggest Trump enjoys pushing the press around would be an understatement.

“He’s getting by with a lot of stuff that no candidate should get by with,” according to Walter Mears, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Associated Press campaign reporter.

But it works for Trump. It definitely works.

That said, note that Tuesday also included an unexpected sliver of media pushback: CBS This Morning stood alone in refusing to allow Trump to replace his scheduled on-camera interview with a phone-in chat. The program cited its longstanding rule against allowing guests to call in.

For most of the campaign, Trump has been awarded the special privilege of calling into programs. Many observers think phone-ins are beneficial to politicians since it’s easier for them to talk over journalists and harder to be pinned down. (Phoners generally preclude the use of on-screen graphics as a tool to confront candidates and get detailed responses.)

“Broadcasting and cable maybe aren’t being as tough as they should be. I have questioned having [Trump] on by telephone, it’s deferring to him in a way, letting him set ground rules that they don’t for others,” former New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt recently told Media Matters. “You do not see his demeanor and it is not the same as having him sit across from an interrogator.”

Between March 1-8, Trump did 17 live interviews with ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. More than half of them were phoned in.

So why did television producers last year invent the running exception for Trump’s phone-ins; the exception that most shows used on Tuesday for him?

“I think there’s enormous interest in Donald Trump as a candidate,” Mary Hager, executive producer of CBS’s Face the Nation, told the Huffington Post last year. “I think if he is only available for a phone interview, we need to be able to help our viewers out in understanding him.” She added, “It’s the Sunday shows responsibility to cover the news.”

Right, but as one veteran TV news pro in the same Huffington Post article pointed out, while front-runners have in the past been able to negotiate the formats of interviews, letting guests phone in for non-breaking news stories is “unprecedented.” So why is it suddenly the media’s “responsibility” to rewrite the rules for Trump? Hager’s answer last year indicated it was because Trump was wildly popular; because there’s “enormous interest.”

Note that Hillary Clinton has accumulated more votes this year than Trump, and according to some recent polls she would easily defeat him in November. (Trump’s among the most disliked politicians in America today.) So again, why the special media rules for the guy who might lose badly in the general election?

On Tuesday, when Trump walked away from his on-camera interviews while claiming his campaign was having technical difficulties with the satellite feed, television sources told CNN’s Brian Stelter that they thought Trump was using a hollow excuse. Yet the candidate, who’s treated like a ratings wonder by news channels, was still given a green light by most of the networks to simply call in.

Why are the phone interviews a big deal? They represent one of the first tangible campaign examples of the press acquiescing to Trump, beginning last summer; making it clear that news executives had no reservations about applying special standards to him. But as CBS This Morning showed this week, the phoners also represent a very simple way for the press to push back. They’re probably the easiest and quickest fix the media could make in an effort to recalibrate its lost leverage with Trump.

Just don’t do it. It’s really that simple.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, March 10, 2016

March 12, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Journalists, Media | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Right To Feel Safe”: MSNBC Anchor Lives Every Female Journalist’s Nightmare

He threatened to kill my children.

He posted photographs of my house and my Atlanta-based advertising agency. He promised to send a “double-tap” my way, a marksman’s jargon for pumping two shots in close succession to my head.

He even posted “November 5, 1973”—the date of my father’s murder.

I reported the ominous messages to Twitter and sent screenshots to MSNBC executives, where I worked as a political contributor at the time. Using his Twitter handle, several followers were able to track him across various white supremacist message boards. They found his real name and the IP address he was using from a church in suburban Dallas.

“That bitch will get what’s coming to her,” he continued tweeting.

The messages were as brazen as they were brutal in nature. I remember pleading for help, demanding that someone in law enforcement take the threats seriously.

Ultimately, it would take three days and the intervention of NBC corporate security before Twitter suspended the anonymous account. The real danger, I was told by an in-house detective, might come from someone inspired by those hideous messages to carry out the threat. I was walking a friend’s daughter to summer camp at a nearby park that morning and suddenly felt vulnerable.

The damage had been done. If someone wanted me to be afraid, they had accomplished that mission many times over.

Like many of us in the public square, MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry has endured her share of malicious threats online. Monday night in an Iowa hotel, the Wake Forest professor came face-to-face with the sum of our collective fears. As caucus-goers crammed into various polling locations around the Hawkeye State, Harris-Perry was watching the cable news coverage on a television in the lobby when she noticed a man standing oddly close to her.

There was an initial query about the subjects she taught, and then a more pointed question about how she got her job at MSNBC.

“What I want to know is how you got credentialed to be on MSNBC…”

“Well. It is not exactly a credential…” she said.

“But why you? Why would they pick you?”

His voice was angry then, she said, and he’s standing closer to her, so close that she can feel his breath.

“I just want you to know why I am doing this,” he told her. He then said something about “Nazi Germany” and “rise to power.”

Harris Perry was paralyzed in fear, as he continued telling her what he was going to do to her and why. Then she sprang from her seat, put a table between them and a friend came to her defense. The stranger was scared away by their yelling and sped away in his car.

“I don’t know if he was there to kill me,” she wrote on a university blog. “I know they [her students] were there to save me.” Her immediate fear was not just of dying, but being killed in front of her students.

Hotel security seemed hardly bothered by the incident, according to Harris-Perry, even after she explained the torrent of death threats she receives regularly.

I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like to be told that I am “making a big deal” out things. So much so, that I now only report the most egregious offenses and I no longer host public meet-ups among my social media followers. I assess and triage each and every message. In every instance, I have to bet on being right.

I can certainly deal with the mocking attitudes of those who do not agree with my politics or policy positions. That comes with the territory. However, every few days or so, someone creates a fake Twitter account in my name in an attempt to assail my public reputation with malicious and sometimes lurid posts. At last count, one anonymous user has created more than 50 accounts specifically dedicated to trolling me. The most virulent threats came during the George Zimmerman trial. The night of the verdict, I spent hours blocking thousands of intemperate and sometimes threatening strangers.

The social tools afforded by Twitter and other social networks aren’t enough. But even the most effective security features would not have prevented what happened to Harris-Perry.

The goal is to terrorize, to make it too uncomfortable for us to continue taking public stands on any number of issues. All too often, they target women. For me, it doesn’t matter if it happens to Harris-Perry, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, or a housewife in Minnesota. We have the right to feel safe—online, in a public space, or in our homes.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, February 3, 2016

February 4, 2016 Posted by | Journalists, Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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