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“Fomenting Racism To Convince Racists That He’s Their Guy”: Why The Media Struggles To Deal With Donald Trump’s Race-Baiting

As you’ve probably heard by now, Donald Trump had quite a weekend. First he claimed on Saturday that “I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as [the World Trade Center] was coming down.” Confronted with the fact that this is completely false, Trump insisted on Sunday, “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations…that tells you something.”

Then on Sunday he (or someone from his campaign) tweeted out a graphic with phony statistics purporting to show how murderous black people are (and illustrated with a picture of a young black man with a bandana over his face, pointing a gun sideways, gangster-style).

Both of these happenings are receiving plenty of attention in the media today. The problem is that the media doesn’t know how to handle this kind of blatant race-baiting from a leading politician.

And just to be clear, it is race-baiting, and nothing else. In neither case is there even the remotest connection to some kind of legitimate policy question. When Trump says falsely that thousands of people in Jersey City (which has a large Muslim population) were celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center, he isn’t making an argument about Syrian refugees. He’s simply saying that you should hate and fear Muslim Americans. When he tries to convince people that most white murder victims are killed by black thugs (again, false), he isn’t arguing for some policy approach. He’s just trying to foment racism and convince racists that he’s their guy.

So how do the media deal with this? One thing they don’t do is call it by its name. The first approach is to report on it as just another campaign controversy (“Trump takes heat for tweet about black murder rates“). That kind of story sticks to the who-what-where-when approach: Trump tweeted this, he was criticized for it, here’s how it was inaccurate, here’s Trump’s response. Any value judgments that appear will be spoken by Trump’s critics (though not his primary opponents, who for the most part are dancing around any criticism of what Trump said).

The second approach the media takes is to address Trump’s comments through fact-checking, something we have gotten pretty good at. Interestingly enough, fact-checking as a formal genre of journalism can be traced to another campaign that prominently featured Republican race-baiting, the 1988 election. In the wake of that election, many news outlets felt they had been manipulated by George H.W. Bush’s campaign into not only focusing on distracting issues that had little or nothing to do with the presidency, but also into becoming a conduit for ugly attacks with little basis in fact. Over the following few years, many decided to institutionalize fact-checks, at first for television ads in particular, and later for all kinds of claims made in politics. Eventually sites like Politifact and were created, and major news organizations like this one devoted staff solely to fact-checking.

In the process, journalists acquired both an understanding of how to separate the accurate from the inaccurate from the subjective, and a language to talk about different kinds of claims. While there’s plenty of slippage — you still see claims that have been proven false referred to as “controversial” or “questionable” — the existence of the fact-checking enterprise has allowed reporters to be clearer with their audiences about what is and isn’t true.

So if you want a fact-check of Trump’s claims, you’ll have no trouble finding it (here’s the Post’s). What you’ll have to look harder for is reporting that puts what Trump said in a context that goes much deeper than the campaign controversy of the week.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that there’s a simple template reporters should follow, one that will allow them to easily separate the merely “controversial” from the clearly racist (though wherever the line is, passing on phony statistics about murderous black people from neo-Nazis is definitely on the other side of it). But they wouldn’t violate any reasonable conception of objectivity by making the nature of Trump’s arguments clear.

When David Duke nearly won the governorship of Louisiana in 1991, it was reported in the national media as a story about racism, with a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan garnering a majority of the white vote as he lost a runoff election. Few in the media hesitated to call Duke a racist, in large part because even at the time he was perceived as representing yesterday’s racism, antiquated for its explicitness (even if Duke did try to clean up his views for the campaign).

Trump represents one face of today’s racism (though not by any means the only face). It simultaneously insists that Muslims can be good Americans, and accuses them of hating America and says their places of worship ought to be kept under government surveillance. It says that some Mexican-Americans are good people, and says most of them are rapists and drug dealers. It says “I think I’ll win the African-American vote” and then tries to convince voters that black people are murdering white people everywhere. In every case, Trump proclaims that he’s no racist while tapping into longstanding racist stereotypes and narratives of the alleged threat posed by minorities to white people.

Since I can’t read minds, I don’t know whether Donald Trump is a racist deep in his heart. But he is without question making himself into the racist’s candidate for president. And that’s a subject the media needs to explore in more depth.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 23, 2015

November 25, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fearmongering, Muslims, Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“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 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

“Truth Is An Inconvenient Nuisance”: Mitt Romney Abandons The Pretense Of Caring About Facts

Nearly three weeks ago, Mitt Romney suggested attack ads rejected by “the various fact-checkers” shouldn’t be on the air. Candidates exposed by the fact-checkers should feel “embarrassed” and pull the falsehoods from the air.

Last week, Romney switched gears. Told that “the various fact-checkers” consider his ridiculous welfare smear to be a blatant lie, the Republican said fact-checkers are fine, so long as they agree with him. If not, they must be biased.

Today, Team Romney abandoned the pretense of caring about honesty altogether.

Mitt Romney’s aides explained with unusual political bluntness today why they are spending heavily — and ignoring media criticism — to air an ad accusing President Barack Obama of “gutting” the work requirement for welfare, a marginal political issue since the mid-1990s that Romney pushed back to center stage.

“Our most effective ad is our welfare ad,” a top television advertising strategist for Romney, Ashley O’Connor, said at a forum Tuesday hosted by ABCNews and Yahoo! News. “It’s new information.”

The claims are “new,” of course, because the Romney campaign made them up. Sure, it’s “new information,” in the same way it would be “new information” if Obama said Mitt Romney sold heroin to children — when one invents a lie, its “newness” is self-evident.

Romney pollster Neil Newhouse added, “[W]e’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

Right. So, in early August, Team Romney believed “the various fact-checkers” should be the arbiters of rhetorical propriety, but in late August, Team Romney believes they’re irrelevant.

It’s important to realize there is no modern precedent for a presidential candidate rejecting the premise that facts matter. Mitt Romney is trying something no one has ever seen — he’s deemed the truth to be an inconvenient nuisance, which Romney will ignore, without shame, to advance his ambitions for vast power.

If you don’t find that frightening, you’re not paying close enough attention.

I loved Greg Sargent’s take on this, because Greg’s question is so terribly important.

In this sense, the Romney campaign continues to pose a test to the news media and our political system. What happens when one campaign has decided there is literally no set of boundaries that it needs to follow when it comes to the veracity of its assertions? The Romney campaign is betting that the press simply won’t be able to keep voters informed about the disputes that are central to the campaign, in the face of the sheer scope and volume of dishonesty it uncorks daily.

The quotes in the BuzzFeed piece should send a shiver down the spines of the political world. Forget parties and ideologies, put aside agendas and values, and just consider what Team Romney is saying: they can lie with impunity and they don’t give a damn who disapproves. So long as it leads to more power in Romney’s hands, anything goes.

Romney is, in effect, issuing something of a dare — he will ignore facts, thumb his nose at reality, and taunt truths with a childish question: What are you going to do about it?

E. J. Dionne Jr. had a column way back in September 2004 that’s always stuck with me. He noted, in the midst of the Bush-Kerry campaign, that Republicans are not above lying, but Dems seem to be squeamish about it. “A very intelligent political reporter I know said the other night that Republicans simply run better campaigns than Democrats,” Dionne noted. “If I were given a free pass to stretch the truth to the breaking point, I could run a pretty good campaign, too.”

That was nearly eight years ago. It was hard to predict at the time that a candidate would stop trying to “stretch the truth to the breaking point,” and start telling bald-faced lies, confident he could get away with it.

I was always taught that campaigns can spin, slice, fudge, and distort the truth, but they couldn’t literally make stuff up. The political fabric of our democracy tolerates a generous amount of duplicity — so long as there’s at least a kernel of truth in the claim somewhere — but demonstrable lies are unacceptable.

Romney believes the old norms are irrelevant. I wonder if he’s right.

If Romney wins, make no mistake, it will establish a new precedent, and campaigns will receive an unmistakable lesson — go ahead and lie; you’ll be rewarded for it.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 28, 2012

August 29, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Things We Know To Be True”: The Death Of Facts In An Age Of “Truthiness”

According to columnist Rex Huppke, there was a recent death that you might have missed. It wasn’t an actor, musician or famous politician, but facts.

In a piece for the Chicago Tribune, Huppke says facts – things we know to be true – are now dead.

Huppke says the final blow came on Wednesday, April 18, when Republican Rep. Allen West of Florida declared that about 80 members of the Democratic Party in Congress are members of the Communist Party.

“That was the death-blow for facts,” Huppke tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

One call to the Communist Party USA confirmed that this was, in fact, not true. According to them, no one in the U.S. House of Representatives is a member of the Communist Party. Days later, Allen West stood by his comments.

So that led Huppke to the idea that if someone of any political party can say something so patently untrue and stand by it — which seems to happen more and more often, he says — then facts must be meaningless and dead.

“[Facts are] survived by rumor and innuendo, two brothers, and then a sister, emphatic assertion,” he says. “They’re all grieving right now, but we wish the best for them.”

There’s another sibling that may be too busy thriving to grieve. Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” as the notion that truth doesn’t lie in books and facts but rather, in your gut. If Huppke is right and facts are indeed dead, perhaps Colbert’s satire is our reality. Where does that leave those of us seeking the truth?

If Facts Are Dead, How About Fact-Checking?

Bill Adair is the editor of PolitiFact, a website run by a team of seasoned journalists that checks facts made by members of Congress, the White House and interest groups. Despite Huppke’s obituary, he tells NPR’s Raz that the market for fact-checking remains strong.

“Whether the fact has actually died or is just on its death bed, I think it means it’s a great time to be in the fact-checking business,” Adair says, “because there are just so many questions about what’s accurate and what’s not.”

PolitiFact’s fact-checking process is long and arduous. The team spends a lot of time researching whether a fact is true, half-true or not at all true, then posts their findings to the site. When it’s over, however, the team at PolitiFact — and even some Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists — can’t always convince people what is true.

Adair often gets emails accusing them of being biased, but he says he’s not sure who they’re supposed to be biased in favor of because they get criticized a lot by both sides.

“I think that’s just the nature of a very rough-and-tumble political discourse,” he says. “We are in a time when there’s more political discourse than ever … and when you hear somebody say your team is wrong, almost like a referee, you’re going to argue with the ref. You’re going to say the ref is biased.”

The ‘Backfire Effect’

Increasingly, people don’t just say the referee is biased, they say the referee is outright lying.

Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan, and a colleague of his, Jason Reifler, conducted an experiment where they had people read a mock new article about President George W. Bush.

The article quoted Bush as saying his tax cuts increased government revenue, which is false. Some of the participants were then given a second article that had a correction: it said the Bush tax cuts actually led to a decline in tax revenue, which is true.

Those who opposed President Bush were more prone to believing the second article, while those who supported Bush, even after reading the second corrected article, were more likely to believe the first.

Nyhan calls this phenomenon the “backfire effect,” and it affects people of all political stripes.

“In journalism, in health [and] in education we tend to take the attitude that more information is better, and so there’s been an assumption that if we put the correct information out there, the facts will prevail,” Nyhan says. “Unfortunately, that’s not always true.”

In some cases, giving people corrective information about a misconception can make the problem worse, Nyhan says. That’s the “backfire effect,” and it can make them believe in the misconception even more strongly.

While there have been times of less polarization among political elites, Nyhan says there has never been a golden age of factual agreement. People have always believed incorrect things, but what has changed is the way our society is structured.

“That trend toward polarization has exacerbated this divergence in factual perceptions, to the point that it seems like we’ve lost something,” he says.

It’s simply too hard to walk back misconceptions once they’re out in the wild, Nyhan says, whether put there by political elites or another source. If there was a greater reputational price to pay for putting falsehoods out there, he says, perhaps there would be fewer of them in the first place.

“That, to me, is a difficult problem, but certainly an easier one than trying to change human nature,” he says, “which is what you’re talking about when you try to talk about convincing people. It’s just too difficult most of the time.”


By: NPR, NPR Staff, April 29, 2012

April 30, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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