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“Mutual Back-Scratching Session With Donald Trump”: Where’s Bill O’Reilly’s Full-Throated Defense Of Megyn Kelly?

Fox News is an organization famous for loyalty. The culture starts from the top, where boss Roger Ailes sits. When anchors come under fire for some reason or other, Ailes is there to back them up. A year ago, for instance, ratings king Bill O’Reilly struggled to respond to a plume of reports documenting how he’d misled people about past reportorial exploits. Whereas other news organizations would audit such a situation, Ailes supported O’Reilly and waited out the storm.

On his program last night, O’Reilly demonstrated how not to return the favor. In a highly anticipated quasi-interview/mutual back-scratching session with Donald Trump, O’Reilly carefully avoided a full-throated endorsement of his colleague Megyn Kelly. Trump has been hammering Kelly ever since the Aug. 6 GOP debate in Cleveland, when she sought an explanation from Trump about how he’d mistreated women over the years. In tweets and interviews, Trump has called Kelly a “lightweight” and cheekily used the term “bimbo” in criticizing her, among other insults — conduct that speaks to the righteousness of Kelly’s Cleveland question.

In recent days, Trump renewed his rips against Kelly and on Tuesday his campaign announced he wouldn’t be showing up for tonight’s Fox News debate, at which Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace will serve as moderators. Trump will hold his own event in Iowa at the same time as the Fox News debate.

A way-too-long conversation on “The O’Reilly Factor” accorded the host a great number of opportunities to rebuff Trump for invoking the term “bimbo” in a tweet about Kelly; to stand foursquare behind Kelly’s Aug. 6 question; and to otherwise stand up for journalism. He turned them down, perhaps preferring not to rupture his decades-long friendship with the real-estate mogul.

Sure, O’Reilly gave the three moderators a vote of confidence, telling Trump that they’d treat him fairly if he decided to show up for the contest. And he did say that Kelly’s question was “within journalistic bounds.”

That said, O’Reilly did some retroactive editing of his prime-time Fox News colleague: “If I had been debate moderator last August, I would have asked you about that comment. I wouldn’t ask it the same way. But once you said something about Carly Fiorina, you open the door for it,” said O’Reilly to Trump. There’s a mistake in there: Kelly didn’t ask about Fiorina at the Aug. 6 Cleveland debate. The controversial and very sexist comments from Trump about Fiorina — “Look at that face!” he said in mocking his fellow candidate’s appearance — surfaced in a September Rolling Stone interview. With her famous question one month earlier in Cleveland, Kelly was focusing on other sexist comments by Trump. Here’s the transcript:

Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women.
You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” Your Twitter account … has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?

When O’Reilly says he wouldn’t have asked that question the “same way,” what he means is that he would have said, “Mr. Trump, my friend of many decades, with whom I’ve gone to many sporting events and bought a great number of milkshakes, would your presidency help women?”

 

By: Eric Wemple, The Erik Wemple Blog, Opinion Page, The Washington Post, January 28, 2016

January 29, 2016 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Megyn Kelly, Roger Ailes | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Triple Standards”: The Media Treatment Of The Clintons Never Improves

Let’s take a look at this Associated Press piece that is being prominently featured at the Fox News website. The headline writers certainly tried to make it appealing to those who are opposed to another Clinton presidency: Clinton opened State Department office to dozens of corporate donors, Dem fundraisers.

But, once you open the article and start reading, you encounter the following disclaimer (emphasis mine):

The woman who would become a 2016 presidential candidate met or spoke by phone with nearly 100 corporate executives and long-time Clinton political and charity donors during her four years at the State Department between 2009 and 2013, records show.

Those formally scheduled meetings involved heads of companies and organizations that pursued business or private interests with the Obama administration, including with the State Department while Clinton was in charge.

The AP found no evidence of legal or ethical conflicts in Clinton’s meetings in its examination of 1,294 pages from the calendars. Her sit-downs with business leaders were not unique among recent secretaries of state, who sometimes summoned corporate executives to aid in international affairs, documents show.

Based on the fact that the AP found nothing unusual or unique about her meetings and that they aren’t even willing to allege any ethical conflict, let alone any legal issues, there appears to be no reason to read the rest of this article at all.

Right?

Well, of course not.

There’s always a “but.”

But the difference with Clinton’s meetings was that she was a 2008 presidential contender who was widely expected to run again in 2016. Her availability to luminaries from politics, business and charity shows the extent to which her office became a sounding board for their interests. And her ties with so many familiar faces from those intersecting worlds were complicated by their lucrative financial largess and political support over the years — even during her State Department tenure — to her campaigns, her husband’s and to her family’s foundation.

So, wait a minute!

Are there any ethical issues or not?

You just said that there is “no evidence” of ethical issues. None.

And then you said that the totally routine and not-unique meetings you analyzed were “complicated” by “lucrative financial largesse” and “political support.”

Can I be a nudge here and simply ask that these reporters say what the mean and mean what they say?

How about this?

You think that a cabinet member who has political ambitions should be held to a higher and different standard from one who does not. So, for example, Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice can meet with the CEO of Pepsi Co. without it meriting a snarling headline but Hillary Clinton cannot.

But, if that’s the argument you want to make then you have uncovered an ethical conflict. Why not have the courage of your convictions and say so?

Or, maybe, you want to carve an even more exclusive exception to your normal standards and argue that what really distinguishes Hillary Clinton from other cabinet members and former secretaries of State is that her husband is a former president who runs a big foundation.

In this case, you’re creating a standard that only applies, and really only could apply, to Hillary Clinton. Even if she does something that doesn’t meet the ordinary criteria for creating an ethical conflict, she can still be hammered for doing something wrong because of unique circumstances that only pertain to her.

Let’s consider the competition. Even the National Review is appalled by Ben Carson’s connection to Mannatech, a medical-supplement maker that then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott charged “with orchestrating an unlawful marketing scheme that exaggerated their products’ health benefits.”

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee became a spokesman for a “Diabetes Solution Kit” that “the American Diabetes Association and the Canadian Diabetes Association caution consumers against” using. He also used his mailing list to promote cancer cures based on biblical passages.

And let’s not forget that Donald Trump created a fake university that was such a scam that he was sued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

These are some pretty low-level examples of simple hucksterism, almost too mundane to compare to the cross-pollinating between the Clintons’ political ambitions and their operation of the Global Initiative. To see something similarly complex and ambiguous enough to bear a resemblance to the latter, you probably need to look into Jeb Bush’s long history with the charter school and school standards and testing movements.

To be clear, just because one candidate is nakedly promoting fraud doesn’t mean that the press should avoid looking at another candidate’s complex financial connections. But it’s basically a smear to publish a piece like this one from the Associated Press, especially when you are unwilling to spell out your double standard and really justify the rationale behind it. And the headline writers take advantage, too, to get the clicks they’re after.

This story says that Hillary Clinton did nothing unusual, illegal, or even unethical, but that’s not the impression the story and the headline leaves, is it?

Haven’t we seen enough of this kind of media treatment of the Clintons over the years?

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 30, 3015

December 1, 2015 Posted by | Fox News, Hillary Clinton, Mainstream Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Too Shall Pass”: Everyone Should Calm Down About Trump’s Ongoing Presence At The Top Of The GOP Field

I’ve been consistent in my belief that former reality TV star Donald Trump will not be the Republican nominee. I wrote as much a week-and-a-half ago arguing that neither Trump nor retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson would be the nominee, given that never in history has a major party nominated someone as bereft of political or military experience as either of these two.

Since then Carson has started his descent back into oblivion – he’s dropped five points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls over the last two-and-a-half weeks – perhaps because the Friday the 13th attacks in Paris exacerbated questions about his grasp of foreign policy. Trump, as has been the case at virtually every turn since his announcement of candidacy, has benefited, gaining three points over this same time period.

So it was gratifying to see yesterday a post by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver arguing that everyone should calm down about Trump’s ongoing presence at the top of the GOP field. He makes a few strong arguments, the first being that while Trump has remained comfortably in the 25-30 percent range, his “middling” favorable ratings make it unlikely that he will be able to grow that base as the field winnows. Another is the question of whether the Trump coalition will actually show up and vote (a question we’ve previously considered in this publication).

And, he adds:

It can be easy to forget it if you cover politics for a living, but most people aren’t paying all that much attention to the campaign right now. Certainly, voters are consuming some campaign-related news. Debate ratings are way up, and Google searches for topics related to the primaries have been running slightly ahead of where they were at a comparable point of the 2008 campaign, the last time both parties had open races. But most voters have a lot of competing priorities. Developments that can dominate a political news cycle, like Trump’s frenzied 90-minute speech in Iowa earlier this month, may reach only 20 percent or so of Americans.

He looks at Google search data and exit-poll data from previous elections to demonstrate both when voters have typically indicated that they made up their minds and also when their interest (as expressed by their online search patterns) starts to rise. “This burst of attention occurs quite late – usually when voters are days or weeks away from their primary or caucus,” he writes.

So as he suggests, everyone should calm down. Return to your regularly scheduled wondering if Trump’s latest insanity will be the event to pop – or at least start taking the air out of – his balloon. Last week it was his flirtation with fascism (yes, I know that he didn’t come up with the idea of stripping Muslims of their constitutional rights, but he didn’t bat an eyelash at it either and to the best of my knowledge still hasn’t actually repudiated the idea); over the weekend he mused about how roughing up a protestor at one of his rallies was the right thing to do. Now we’re onto his fabricated recollection of “thousands” of Jersey City, New Jersey, residents – he has identified them as Muslims but even supposing such an event took place, how would he be able to tell their creed over the television? – celebrating the 9/11 attacks. “It was well-covered at the time,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” What’s actually been well-covered is the fallaciousness of his memory on this topic. Think about this: Is there any way that mass celebrations in an American city would have not been – to borrow a Trumpism – a yuuuuge story in the supercharged days, weeks and months after 9/11? If such video existed, it would have run on an endless loop on Fox News Channel. It would have become an instant and enduring meme on conservative talk radio and on the right-wing of the Web. Even Carson, who initially shared Trump’s “memory,” has since retracted the claim. I suppose the same conspiracy that has purged every news report of the thousands of cheering New Jerseyans from the collective memory and all contemporaneous news reports must have gotten to Carson too!

The Iowa Caucus is scheduled for February 1 of next year. One circumstance that is bound to change in the more than two months before that event kicks off the formal primary season is advertising. Most of the ads that have run thus far have been positive and soft – basic introduce-the-candidate ads. But sooner or later rival candidates and other outside groups will start training their negative ads on Trump. There is reason to believe that advertising has been able to move numbers – which makes sense if you believe that the polls thus far have been driven by news coverage (which I do). Let’s see what happens when the ad dollars start flowing in earnest and especially start recounting some of Trump’s greatest hits, like those mentioned above.

The whole thing is bizarre – and will be superseded by his next outrageous pronouncement, which will no doubt be that Muslim terrorists attacked the first Thanksgiving dinner.

This too shall pass, in other words – rather like the Trump candidacy.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, Managing Editor for Opinion, U.S. News & World Report; November 27, 2015

November 28, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fascism, GOP Presidential Candidates, Racism | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Republicans Have No Sense Of Recent History”: President Obama’s Critics Demand He Be More Like George W. Bush

Today President Obama made another public statement about how his administration is trying to take down ISIS, and I can promise you one thing: his critics will not be satisfied. That’s because a new question has emerged, one that anyone with any sense of recent history ought to be shocked to hear: Why can’t Barack Obama be more like George W. Bush?

Here’s part of what Obama said today:

Let me remind the American people of what our coalition of some 65 nations is doing to destroy these terrorists and defeat their ideology. So far our military and our partners have conducted more than 8,000 airstrikes on ISIL strongholds and equipment. Those airstrikes along with the efforts of our partners on the ground have taken out key leaders, have taken back territory from ISIL in both Iraq and Syria. We continue to work to choke off their financing and their supply lines, and counter their recruiting and their messaging…So we’re stepping up the pressure on ISIL where it lives, and we will not let up, adjusting our tactics when necessary, until they are beaten…

The bottom line is this: I want the American people to know, entering the holidays, that the combined resources of our military, our intelligence, and our homeland security agencies are on the case. They’re vigilant, relentless, and effective…While the threat of terrorism is a troubling reality of our age, we are both equipped to prevent attacks and we are resilient in the face of those who would try to do us harm. And that’s something we can all be thankful for.

You could almost hear Obama’s critics rolling their eyes and saying, “Boo-ring! Where’s the anger, the outrage, the Churchillian resolve?” In recent days, Obama has been getting a lot of criticism in the media not just for the fact that he hasn’t yet vanquished ISIS, but for the quality of his emoting when he talks about terrorism. To cite only one example, here’s what Peggy Noonan said in her critique of Obama’s response to the Paris attacks:

Finally, continued travels through the country show me that people continue to miss Ronald Reagan’s strength and certitude…What people hunger for now from their leaders is an air of shown and felt confidence: I can do this. We can do it.

Who will provide that? Where will it come from? Isn’t it part of what we need in the next president?

There’s been a lot more like this. Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with critiquing the president’s performance qua performance. One of his jobs is to be a communicator, to guide the public through complex and troubling events. But the essence of the current criticism seems to be that Obama needs to do more of what George W. Bush did: tough talk, oversimplifying the challenges we face, and fooling us into thinking that this is all going to be over soon.

Which is curious, to say the least. In the wake of September 11, the news media were flooded with stories about what an extraordinary leader — how masterful and glorious and just short of god-like — Bush had become. All pretense of objectivity was cast aside as reporters rushed to assure us that the previously callow man was transformed by events into precisely the leader all Americans needed. As Newsweek described him in December 2001, “He has been a model of unblinking, eyes-on-the-prize decisiveness…He has been eloquent in public, commanding in private…Where does this optimism, the defiant confidence, come from?…He feels destined to win — and to serve.” That’s the kind of hard-hitting journalism we saw from the liberal media in those days.

But as we would soon find out, standing atop a pile of rubble and promising vengeance made people feel very good in the moment, but weren’t a substitute for taking wise actions. Bush got us into two wars whose effects we’re still feeling, with nearly seven thousand American service-members dead, a couple of trillion dollars spent, and our goals in both Iraq and Afghanistan still unfulfilled over a decade later.

So you might think that experience would help contextualize what’s happening right now. Of all the things you can criticize Obama for, it seems odd to focus on his unwillingness to pretend that ISIS is a simple problem that can be easily dispatched with enough resolve.

That, however, is exactly what the candidates say. But if you’re been looking for a realistic plan to deal with ISIS from them, you’ll likely be disappointed. What most of the Republicans have offered is a mix of things the administration is already doing (such as work with our allies in the region!). This includes Hillary Clinton, who hasn’t offered much beyond Obama’s plan, except perhaps for more air strikes and a “no fly” zone.

Meanwhile, some Republican candidates have offered things that have zero relationship to this particular conflict (increase the military budget!), or notions so vaguely worded as to be essentially meaningless (put pressure on Iran!), and utterly unrealistic fantasies. In this last category you find things like Marco Rubio saying: “I would build a multinational coalition of countries willing to send troops into Iraq and Syria to aid local forces on the ground.”

Well, that sounds nice. Who’s in this coalition willing to send their troops into Syria’s civil war? Why haven’t they done it up until now? Is it because they’re just waiting for a leader of Marco Rubio’s stature to ask?

To be fair, multiple candidates have advocated a greater role for U.S. troops — forward air controllers, more special forces troops, the establishment of “safe zones.” But they haven’t grappled with one of the central problems: obliterating ISIS on our own, or even with the limited help our allies are willing to give, would require a large troop presence, essentially another invasion, and then we’d have to stay there indefinitely to secure the peace, probably watching while that invasion creates a whole new generation of anti-American terrorists. In other words, we’d be doing the Iraq War all over again. And it worked out so well the first time.

That’s the thought that has plainly restrained Obama, both in what he’s willing to do in the Middle East and in his willingness to act triumphal about it. You can say his performance on this topic hasn’t reached the emotional heights you’d like. But you can’t say he doesn’t have good reason for being restrained by that thought.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributer, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 25, 2015

November 26, 2015 Posted by | George W Bush, ISIS, National Security, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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 FactCheck.org 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

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