I wrote earlier about the peculiar spectacle Tuesday night of Donald Trump giving a 45-minute infomercial for his product lines, but I think it’s also worth noting how his post-primary press conferences illustrate his genius for media manipulation.
Two things specifically stuck out at me watching these performances. The first was that he stacks the first few rows of these events with his friends and supporters. And being a friendly audience, they eat up his shtick – laughing at his jokes and cheering on cue. For the casual viewer who doesn’t know any better, it might seem like he’s giving a “press conference” to an adoring media (as opposed to, say, a victory speech in front of supporters where crowd enthusiasm would be more expected).
Combine that with the second thing that has stuck out to me: When he gets around to taking questions, only he is mic’d up – you cannot hear his interlocutors’ questions. This gives him a couple of advantages. First, he can, at minimum, answer the question he wants to rather than the one asked, or he can go further, and on a rolling basis, screen out or ignore questions he doesn’t like. So Tuesday night, an NBC reporter reportedly – of course, TV viewers couldn’t hear the question – asked Trump about his verbal vulgarity and how parents should explain his language to their children. Trump didn’t like the question, so he didn’t answer it. Instead (perhaps taking a page from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bullying playbook) he derided the reporter: “Oh, you’re so politically correct, you’re so beautiful. Oh, look at you – aww, he’s so – oh I know you’ve never heard a little bad, a little off-language. I know, you’re so perfect. Aren’t you perfect? Aren’t you just a perfect young man. Give me a break. You know what? It’s stuff like that that people in this country are tired of. It’s stuff like that.”
What was the question? All viewers got was Trump the Dominant ridiculing a reporter while the rest of the audience at this “press conference” laughed along. It’s Trump’s show, and the reporters become muted bit players abetting him.
Of course that doesn’t even get at their bosses, the “cable news” execs who carry his every utterance as if he actually were the president. (And does any other politician get to phone in interviews as much as Trump, rather than having to get in front of a camera?) Look, I get that Trump has some entertainment value and that his unscripted nature means that you never know what is going to pop out of his mouth at any time. But there’s got to be some sense of balance and/or responsibility. Fox, CNN and MSNBC gave Trump 45 minutes in prime time. As Politico’s Hadas Gold noted Tuesday night, “Forty five minutes of uninterrupted TV time on the three cable news networks is the equivalent of millions of dollars in free media for a campaign – a stunning amount of TV time.”
And he gets it routinely, because he’s a master of manipulating the media.
By: Robert Schlesinger, Managing Editor for Opinion, U.S. News & World Report, March 9, 2016
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
Brent Budowsky is experiencing some exuberance. Whether it’s irrational exuberance or not, we may never know.
Stop the presses! According to a new poll by Quinnipiac University on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) destroys Republican candidate Donald Trump in a general election by 13 percentage points. In this new poll, Sanders has 51 percent to Trump’s 38 percent. If this margin held in a general election, Democrats would almost certainly regain control of the United States Senate and very possibly the House of Representatives.
It is high time and long overdue for television networks such as CNN to end their obsession with Trump and report the all-important fact that in most polls, both Hillary Clinton and Sanders would defeat Trump by landslide margins. In the new Quinnipiac poll, Clinton would defeat Trump by 7 percentage points, which is itself impressive and would qualify as a landslide, while the Sanders lead of 13 points would bring a landslide of epic proportions.
Obviously, polls like this taken eleven months before a general election aren’t worth much. But there’s a point here regardless. There’s a pretty strong assumption in many quarters that a Brooklyn-raised seventy-four year old self-proclaimed socialist Jewish guy from granola-chomping Vermont doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected president of the United States. Yet, this Quinnipiac poll shows he’d schlong the current Republican front-runner, and schlong him like a drum. Not only that, but he’d have more potential coattails than Hillary Clinton.
Maybe that’s true right now–maybe it would even still be true next November–but that’s not the main point that Budowsky wants to make. His point is that Trump is getting too much media attention and Bernie Sanders (especially) and Hillary Clinton are getting too little.
I know a lot of regular voters who are not media-types who would vote for Sanders over Clinton in a heartbeat if only they could be assured that he wouldn’t lose a very winnable election. And who knows what happens when the Republicans bring out all their Willie Hortons and Swift-Boat Veterans for Truth? Does Sanders have the kind of teflon that the Clintons are famous for possessing?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. I do sometimes wonder if the right in this country will just completely and finally lose their shit if we elect someone like Sanders as president. Putting up with a President Hillary Clinton seems like indignity enough for these folks who have been raised on Vince Foster watermelon conspiracies and Benghazi heat-fever dreams. But, at least the Establishment knows that the Clintons are what happens to you when you lose an election and not some earth-shattering proof that your country has been lost forever and turned over to the communists.
Then part of me just has a prurient interest in seeing just how mental the right will go if it turns out that Sanders can not only win but that he can destroy them in a wipeout landslide.
What I am pretty sure about is that Trump is at least as unorthodox and unacceptable to a huge swath of the electorate as Sanders would be. In a matchup between the two of them, we’d be assured of getting something we’ve never seen before and basically no one thought was possible.
I’d have plenty to write about, that’s for sure.
By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 23,2015
About two-thirds of the way through the GOP Debate/Goat Rodeo last night, in the midst of yet another Syrian refugee pile-on, I tweeted, “How about vetting the multiple white guys who committed domestic terrorism in Colorado?”
My friend Tom Sullivan retweeted it with a note, “White college students from CA caused more terror in CO than any refugee ever will.”
Tom, tragically, would know. His son Alex was murdered in the Aurora theater gun massacre.
The debate was billed to focus on national security. You heard lots about Paris and San Bernardino and the threat that shut down the Los Angeles school system Tuesday. Not a word about Charleston. Or Aurora. Or Colorado Springs. Or Umpqua Community College in Oregon. Or Sandy Hook, just a day after the anniversary of what was a most horrific day among so many in the American timeline of mass shootings. A distinction shared by no other developed country, many of whom have seen homeland violence but none with the numbing regularity of ours.
Ben Carson did a moment of silence for San Bernardino – which is appropriate. But nobody said a word about a school full of dead teachers and 6- and 7-year-olds, almost three years to the day since they died.
Terrorism to Republicans looks like someone else. Terrorism to many other Americans looks like someone they know and we know, someone who takes cues from Internet mutterings about baby parts, or a deranged and feeble young man with available mass-killing weapons at home or a white supremacist acting on ramblings from the darkest corners of a disturbed mind.
We actually have met the enemy, which is why there are reproductive health care doctors who go to work wearing bulletproof vests. But Republicans don’t want to talk about it. And frankly, CNN whiffed on bringing it up.
As the scorecard goes, Jeb Bush finally woke up the fact that yes, he is losing to That Guy, the Short Fingered Vulgarian Donald Trump, about four debates too late. As my friend Mike Gehrke put it, Rand Paul actually sounded sane to drunk Democrats. I don’t understand Ted Cruz’s base, but he appeared to speak to it effectively while attacking Rubio for being soft on immigration. Trump blustered his way through as usual, and his supporters don’t care. Chris Christie seems to have adopted Rudy Giuliani’s “noun, verb, 9/11” approach. The air has gone out of the Carly Fiorina balloon to the point she made multiple “pay attention to me” pleas to the moderators.
The penultimate moment of the whole thing may have been when Ben Carson, having sufficiently malapropped “Hamas” into “hummus” last week, dubbed the Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Pubis. Who knew he had a porn name?
Along with domestic terrorism, the other thing notably absent from the campaign was much mention of Hillary Clinton, which suits her just fine. The longer Republicans stay divided, keep bloviating among themselves and persist in throwing duck-face shade on the split screen, the better for Democrats in what will be a hard-fought 2016 election.
By: Laura K. Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, December 16, 2015
Watching the second Republican presidential debate on CNN and its aftermath, millions of Americans learned again what we already know about the candidates: These people embellish, prettify, and fabricate their own biographies without hesitation, from Donald Trump’s much-parodied boasting about his business acumen to Carly Fiorina’s super-selective accounting of her tenure at Hewlett-Packard to Chris Christie’s highly romanticized account of his appointment and record as U.S. Attorney to Jeb Bush’s wildly inflated claims about the Florida economy when he was governor.
But as Christie himself pointed out – in a remark targeted at Trump and Fiorina – why would anybody even pay attention to the tall tales told by these politicians (or the self-styled political “outsiders,” who sound exactly like politicians) about themselves? While the bickering is sometimes amusing and mostly annoying, does anyone believe that it matters?
For these characters to prevaricate endlessly about their résumés and achievements is neither surprising nor important. Of much greater consequence are the bat-winged lies they emit about issues that affect all of our lives, as well as the future of the United States and the world.
Evidently all of the Republicans on the stage at the Reagan presidential library wanted us to believe that Planned Parenthood should be shut down everywhere because its clinics sell post-abortion fetal body parts for profit. That is a false and outrageous accusation, disproved in the same videotapes that they cited as proof. Attacking the venerable women’s health organization, Fiorina went even further, furiously describing a scene in those videos supposedly showing a “fully formed fetus” with legs kicking and heart beating while someone prepares to “harvest its brain.”
Such horrific practices, she declared, “erode the character of our nation.” What erodes the character of our nation, in fact, is Fiorina’s blatant chicanery, repeated by her the next morning on ABC News. The video she claims to have watched does not exist, according to Vox.com reporter Sarah Kliff, who viewed all 12 hours of those videos.
What exist in reality are hundreds of thousands of women who will lose access to health care if fanatics like Fiorina and her fellow Republican candidates ever succeed in wrecking Planned Parenthood. Having “harvested” tens of millions of dollars from Hewlett-Packard for nearly wrecking the company, however, she doesn’t need to worry about medical care for other people.
Nearly every Republican on that stage brayed his or her opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement – and every one of them falsely described that deal. Typical was Senator Ted Cruz, who warned, “We won’t know under this agreement—there are several facilities in Iran they designate as military facilities that are off limits all together…the other facilities, we give them 24 days notice before inspecting them.”
None of what Cruz said is true or relevant. All of Iran’s designated nuclear facilities will fall under continuous video and electronic monitoring in addition to physical visitation by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who will also monitor any movements of nuclear materials or equipment there. Hostile to scientific facts as they are, Cruz and his fellow Republicans are probably unaware of how easily as little as a billionth of a gram of radioactive dust could be detected by IAEA inspectors, as the Center for National Security at Fordham University noted in a factsheet.
These examples represent only a few of literally dozens of mendacious statements about crucial public issues, usually bordering on absurdity, broadcast by CNN with little contradiction on Wednesday evening. Senator Marco Rubio insisted that we can do nothing about man-made climate change without destroying the economy, when every reputable study shows that the economy and the world will be destroyed if we do nothing. Christie promised to “save” Social Security from insolvency by denying payments to wealthy recipients, when that won’t significantly improve the system’s finances – and the “crisis” he touted is overblown anyway. Trump insisted that life-saving vaccines cause autism, complete with anecdotal “proof” from an “employee” whose “beautiful baby” contracted a fever and then “became autistic” after being vaccinated.
Not only did Trump concoct that sad story, but there is little doubt that his own children, including little Barron Trump, have received proper vaccinations. (Manhattan private schools don’t accept the unvaccinated.) Disgracefully, neither of the two physicians on stage, Rand Paul and Ben Carson, had the guts to forcefully contradict him.
Try as they will to reject Trump, he fits in perfectly among Republicans – and not only because he worships money, spews xenophobic nonsense, and encourages callous bigotry. Like them, he relies on fabrications and falsehoods, manipulating the prejudices of ill-informed voters.
The Republican rejection of reality – which these candidates will act out in debate after debate for months to come – inflicts grave costs on this country every day. It is hard to imagine the damage that will be done if one of these deceivers comes to power.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, The National Memo, September 17, 2015