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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

The Radicalization Of The Republican Party: Seven Years Late, Media Elites Finally Acknowledge GOP’s Radical Ways

Now they tell us the Republican Party is to blame? That the Obama years haven’t been gummed up by Both Sides Are To Blame obstruction?

The truth is, anyone with clear vision recognized a long time ago that the GOP has transformed itself since 2009 into an increasingly radical political party, one built on complete and total obstruction. It’s a party designed to make governing difficult, if not impossible, and one that plotted seven years ago to shred decades of Beltway protocol and oppose every inch of Obama’s two terms. (“If he was for it, we had to be against it,” former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.)

And for some of us, it didn’t take Donald Trump’s careening campaign to confirm the destructive state of the GOP. But if it’s the Trump circus that finally opens some pundits’ eyes, so be it.

Recently, Dan Balz, the senior political writer for the Washington Post, seemed to do just that while surveying the unfolding GOP wreckage as the party splinters over Trump’s rise. Balz specifically noted that four years ago political scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein examined the breakdown in American politics and zeroed in their blame squarely on Republicans.

“They were ahead of others in describing the underlying causes of polarization as asymmetrical, with the Republican Party — in particular its most hard-line faction — as deserving of far more of the blame for the breakdown in governing,” Balz acknowledged.

“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional,” Mann and Ornstein wrote in The Washington Post in 2012. “In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”

They continued:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Tough stuff.

And what was the Beltway media’s response when Ornstein and Mann squarely blamed Republicans during an election year for purposefully making governing impossible? Media elites suddenly lost Mann and Ornstein’s number, as the duo’s television appearances and calls for quotes quickly dried up. So did much of the media’s interest in Mann and Ornstein’s prescient book.

“This was far too much for the mainstream press,” noted New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. “They couldn’t assimilate what Mann and Ornstein said AND maintain routines and assumptions that posited a rough symmetry between the two parties. (‘Both sides do it.’) It was too much dissonance. Too much wreckage. So they pushed it away.”

For anyone who still harbors the naïve notion that the political debates staged by the Beltway press represent freewheeling discussions where anything goes, the Mann/Ornstein episode helped shed some light on the fact that certain topics and analysis remain off limits for public debate for years — even topics that are accurate, fair and essential to understanding our government’s current dysfunction.

Mann and Ornstein stepped forward to accurately describe what was happening to the Republican Party and detailed the calamitous effect it had on our democracy, and the mainstream media turned away.

So committed was the pundit class to maintaining its safe narrative about “bipartisan gridlock” and Obama’s puzzling inability to find “middle ground” with Republicans (i.e. why doesn’t he just schmooze more?), the press was willing to ignore Mann and Ornstein’s solid, scholarly research in order to wish the problem away.

Quite predictably, that problem has only worsened since 2012, which is what Mann and Ornstein address in their latest offering, “It’s Even Worse Than It Was.”  

“It is the radicalization of the Republican party,” they recently wrote, “that has been the most significant and consequential change in American politics in recent decades.”

“The radicalization of the Republican party” — talk about the topic the Beltway press simply doesn’t want to dwell on, let alone acknowledge. Instead, the press has clung to its preferred narrative about how the GOP is filled with honest brokers who are waiting to work in good faith with the White House. Eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are responsible for sparking conflict (i.e. center-right Republicans vs. center-left Democrats), the press effectively gave Republicans a pass and pretended their radical, obstructionist ways represented normal partisan pursuits. (They didn’t.)

Today’s Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP’s gun law obstruction, the Violence Against Women Act obstruction, the sequester obstruction, Supreme Court obstruction, minimum wage obstruction, 9/11 first responder obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, immigration reform obstruction, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation obstruction, Susan Rice secretary of state obstruction, paid leave obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

The 2014 obstruction of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was especially galling, as a single Republican senator blocked a vote on the crucial veterans bill.

At the time of the bill’s blockade, Media Matters noted that there was virtually no coverage of the radical obstructionism on CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS, as well as news blackouts in the nation’s six largest newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, and Chicago Tribune

In other words, the GOP’s radical brand of obstructionism not only doesn’t get highlighted as something notable, radical, and dangerous; it’s often met with a collective shrug as the press pretends these kind of nonstop impediments are commonplace.

As Obama works his way through his final year in office, at least pundits like Balz are highlighting that Mann and Ornstein (and yes, Media Matters) were right about the GOP and the asymmetrical blame the party deserves for trying to wreck our functioning government.

It’s never too late for truth telling.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, March 29, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Governing, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Media Not Doing Its Job”: Campaign Press Adopts The Trump Rules — They’re The Opposite Of The Clinton Rules

Switching back and forth between MSNBC and CNN last Thursday night as they aired competing, hour-long interviews with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, viewers ran the risk of whiplash. The threat lingered not just because Clinton and Trump were on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but because the tone and tenor of the two events seemed dramatically different.

Here were some of the questions posed to Clinton from the MSNBC event’s co-moderators, NBC’s Chuck Todd and Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart:

  • “What would you do to make possible that the [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival] students become permanent residents?”
  • “Would you ever imagine raising the retirement age in the next 10 years?”
  • “Do you foresee a time when the federal government would be able to include the undocumented [workers] in federal grants for education?”
  • “Should people start paying Social Security taxes on income over $120,000?”
  • “Is a presidential visit [to Cuba] a step too far? Would a President Clinton be going this quickly?”

By contrast, here were some of the questions posed to Trump from the CNN moderator, Anderson Cooper:

  • “What do you eat when you roll up at a McDonald’s, what does – what does Donald Trump order?”
  • “What’s your favorite kind of music?”
  • “How many hours a night do you sleep?”
  • “What kind of a parent are you?”
  • “What is one thing you wish you didn’t do?”

Obviously, those questions don’t reflect everything asked over the 60-minute programs. And I’m not suggesting Trump didn’t get any policy questions during his CNN sit-down. But the vibe from MSNBC’s Clinton event was definitely, Midterm Cram Session, while the vibe from CNN’s Trump event leaned towards, People Magazine Wants To Know. (One week later, Clinton sat for a CNN town hall where she did not receive any of the light, lifestyle questions that were asked to Trump.)

In a way, the interviews nicely captured the unfolding guidelines for the 2016 campaign season. With both Clinton and Trump enjoying big election wins last weekend and now apparently with inside tracks to their party’s nomination, we’re beginning to see signs about what the press coverage of a Clinton vs. Trump general election might look like.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have been in the public spotlight so long, and have been sparring with the Beltway press for so many years, that so-called Clinton Rules have been established. They outline the informal guidelines media follow when covering the Clintons.

The one-word distillation of the Clinton Rules? Negativity. Likely followed by distrust, snark, and condescension. Simple facts are considered optional and the Clintons are always, always held to a different, tougher standard than everyone else.

By contrast, Trump has only been in the campaign spotlight for eight months but I’d suggest the media’s Trump Rules have already come into focus: Intimidation, aggrandizement, and a lack of curiosity.

In other words, when you fly above the campaign season with a bird’s eye view, it seems inescapable that the press is being soft on the Republican, while at the same being hard on the Democrat.

Have reporters and pundits given Trump a complete pass? Absolutely not. (See more below.) Just as with the Clinton Rules, there are always exceptions to the coverage. But in terms of a vibe and a feel, it’s hard to claim that Trump is getting hit with the same relentlessly caustic (she’s doomed!) coverage that follows Clinton around everywhere she goes.

Can anyone even imagine what the relentless, almost hysterical, press coverage would look like if Clinton rallies were marred by violence, and if she denounced campaign reporters as disgusting liars? So far, neither of those phenomena from the Trump campaign have sparked crisis coverage from the press.

Some journalists are starting to concede the Trump Rules are in effect. The Washington Post just dubbed Trump a “unicorn” because he gets away with things no other candidate does. On Twitter, BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith suggested “there’s obviously been a trade, mostly on TV, of laying off his dishonesty and bigotry on exchange for access.”

Pulitizer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin bemoaned the hands-off vetting of Trump:

Do we know, at this point, about his modus operandi in business? Do we know how he treated his staff? Do we know what kind of leader he was when he was building his business? I mean, I don’t know the answers to these things. All I know is that, when I see him now, it’s like his past is not being used by the media to tell us who the guy really is.

And neither do I.

For instance, I don’t know much about Trump’s finances. Clinton last year released eight years of tax returns but Trump won’t yet give a firm answer regarding if and when he’ll do the same. So why hasn’t that been a pressing media pursuit?

Last week, veteran Time political scribe Joe Klein also teed off on his colleagues, while appearing on MSNBC’s Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell:

It’s the most — probably the most embarrassing coverage of a candidate that I’ve seen in my 11-God- help-me presidential campaigns. First of all, we’re aggrandizing him like crazy because he boosts ratings. Second of all, we’re not doing our job.

Days later, leaked audio from MSNBC’s infamous Trump town hall event seemed to confirm a central claim that excessive Trump coverage — and usually the fawning variety — is good for business and good for media careers. During a commercial break after Mika Brzezinski thanked Trump for participating in the town hall event, Trump said, “I’m doing this because you get great ratings and a raise — me, I get nothing.”

They don’t teach that at journalism school.

Note that the strange part of the larger Trump Rules phenomenon is that the candidate mouths so much constant nonsense on the campaign trail, you’d think he’d dread going on TV and answering pointed questions about his bullying campaign. But it’s quite the opposite. Because even when journalists raise thorny topics with him, they usually give Trump a pass.

For instance, on Sunday’s State of the Union, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump about the white supremacist supporters he had retweeted, which certainly constitutes a probing question that likely made Trump uncomfortable, right?

Not exactly. While the initial question from Tapper was good, when Trump responded with a rambling, 600-word non-answer, which concluded with him vowing to bring jobs back from India, Tapper simply moved on to the next topic instead of drilling down on the fact that the Republican frontrunner was retweeting white supremacists.

Or hit the Wayback Machine to last September when Trump appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation and spun for host John Dickerson the fantastic tale about how 9/11 terrorists had tipped off their (mostly non-existent) wives about the pending terror attack, and had their (mostly non-existent) wives flown home days before hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center.

Dickerson’s response? He didn’t raise a single question about Trump’s concocted claims.

Print journalists seem to be doing a better job at fact-checking Trump. To his credit, Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post has called out some of Trump’s more outlandish claims. Kessler’s recent foray surrounded Trump’s “truly absurd claim he would save $300 billion a year on prescription drugs.”

Kessler’s conclusion? Trump is nuts. Or, more delicately:

Once again, we are confronted with a nonsense figure from the mouth of Donald Trump. He is either claiming to save four times the entire cost of the Medicare prescription drug system – or he is claiming to make prescription drugs free for every American.

Have occasional findings of fact like that changed the often-breezy tenor of Trump’s overall coverage? No they have not. Because two days after Kessler’s Medicare takedown, Trump was interviewed for an hour on CNN where the candidate wasn’t asked about his nutty prescription drug estimates. But he was asked what kind of music he likes and if he orders French fries at McDonald’s.

Welcome to the Trump Rules.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Senior Fellow, Media Matters for America; The National Memo,  February 25, 2016

March 2, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Obama Makes His Case; ‘Freedom Is More Powerful Than Fear’”: Our Success Won’t Depend On Tough Talk, Abandoning Our Values, Or Giving Into Fear

President Obama’s Oval Office address on the terrorist threat treated the American public like grown-ups. His critics hated it.

It’s true that for many of the most engaged observers, last night’s remarks broke little new policy ground, but Beltway pundits and Republican presidential candidates probably weren’t the intended audience. Rather, Obama was speaking to a broad American mainstream, which includes folks who may be asking questions like, “Why aren’t we going after ISIS?” and “Do we have a strategy to deal with the threat?”

You and I may know the answers to those questions, but the president directed his message to those who don’t necessarily follow public affairs closely.

“Here’s what I want you to know: The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power.”

The four-part plan includes familiar tenets: a continued military offensive against ISIS targets; training and equipment support to Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting on the ground; strengthening an international coalition; and pursuing a political resolution to the Syrian war.

It’s a detail that goes largely overlooked, but many of the leading Republican presidential candidates have sketched out their plans for U.S. policy towards ISIS – and they look awfully similar to what Obama presented last night. Change some of the rhetoric – add more chest-thumping bravado – and take out some of the president’s calls for preventing gun violence, and the simple truth is that the Obama administration’s plan is largely indistinguishable from many GOP plans.

But presenting this policy vision wasn’t the sole point of the Oval Office address.

The president challenged Congress to limit suspected terrorists’ access to guns and to authorize the military offensive against ISIS that began nearly a year and a half ago. He challenged Muslim leaders to “continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.”

And he challenged Americans of every stripe not to give into fear and embrace discriminatory attitudes. Obama made the appeal on principle, but just as importantly, he made clear that respect for diversity can be part of an effective counter-terrorism strategy. “It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently,” the president explained. “Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL…. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear.”

Broadly speaking, this apparently wasn’t what the right and many pundits wanted to hear. It seems Obama’s critics see a president with a steady hand, showing grace under fire, and it leaves them unsatisfied. The president’s detractors demand more righteous fury, and less calm, resilient leadership.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan added over night that the question is now “whether common sense and an awareness of limits still have a place in American politics.” If some of the initial reactions last night are any indication, the answer may prove to be discouraging.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 7, 2015

December 8, 2015 Posted by | American People, Fearmongering, GOP Presidential Candidates, ISIS | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Where’s The Cool-Down Switch On This Thing?”: The Apocalyptic Mind-Set That Has Developed Among Republicans

Krugman is, as usual, right: the hysteria level among Republicans at present is just out of control. You imagine them examining their own bodies for a cool-down switch or maybe plunging themselves into cold bathwater periodically.

[W]e shouldn’t really be surprised, because we’ve seen this movie before (unless we were too scared to go to the theater). Remember the great Ebola scare of 2014? The threat of a pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real. But it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger.

What’s more, the supposed “solutions” were similar, too, in their combination of cruelty and stupidity. Does anyone remember Mr. Trump declaring that “the plague will start and spread” in America unless we immediately stopped all plane flights from infected countries? Or the fact that Mitt Romney took a similar position? As it turned out, public health officials knew what they were doing, and Ebola quickly came under control — but it’s unlikely that anyone on the right learned from the experience.

What explains the modern right’s propensity for panic? Part of it, no doubt, is the familiar point that many bullies are also cowards. But I think it’s also linked to the apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years.

Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance! And nobody on the right dares point out the failure of the promised disasters to materialize, or suggest a more nuanced approach.

Given this context, it’s only natural that the right would seize on a terrorist attack in France as proof that Mr. Obama has left America undefended and vulnerable. Ted Cruz, who has a real chance of becoming the Republican nominee, goes so far as to declare that the president “does not wish to defend this country.”

The context also explains why Beltway insiders were so foolish when they imagined that the Paris attacks would deflate Donald Trump’s candidacy, that Republican voters would turn to establishment candidates who are serious about national security.

Who, exactly, are these serious candidates? And why would the establishment, which has spent years encouraging the base to indulge its fears and reject nuance, now expect that base to understand the difference between tough talk and actual effectiveness?

Sure enough, polling since the Paris attack suggests that Mr. Trump has actually gained ground.

And why shouldn’t he? The entire GOP field has been moving in his direction on this inflammable “Issue” of immigration linked to terrorism. The Republican Establishment types who have regarded the Trump candidacy as summer entertainment for the hoi polloi before they settle down to do their duty to the party by nominating Jeb have never really understood Trump’s appeal. All they can do now is mimic his rhetoric.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Senior Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 20, 2015

November 21, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Fearmongering | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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