Eric Boehlert

The press finally tried—and failed—to stand up to Trump

With Donald Trump becoming the first American president to be impeached in his first term, while holed up in the White House tweeting endless attacks around the clock like some internet troll, 2019 should have been the year the Beltway media finally shed its signature timidity and forcefully stood up to him. This should have been the year the press worked up the courage to disband the pointless protocols newsroom had established for covering Trump (he's not a "liar," he's not a "racist"), and simply started telling the hard truths about him. And while there were some welcome flashes of truth-telling, especially surrounding the Ukraine scandal and the impeachment, for the most part the D.C. press still hasn't signaled that's it's ready, or willing, to take the necessary steps needed to cover Trump.

Incredibly, as I noted in August, this represented one 48-hour period in 2019:

He quoted a rabid conspiracy theorist radio host who declared that Israeli Jews love Trump as if he were the “King of Israel” and “the second coming of God,” while Trump himself accused American Jews of "great disloyalty" if they voted for Democrats. He attacked the prime minister of Denmark ("nasty") because she will not sell him Greenland and she mocked the very idea as “absurd.” He suggested he might serve more than two terms in office. He slurred his words while reading a speech off a teleprompter. He accused journalists of trying to ruin the U.S. economy. He claimed Google had "manipulated" millions of votes in Hillary Clinton's favor during the 2016 election. He suggested giving himself a Medal of Honor. He said doctors in El Paso, Texas, left their operating rooms mid-surgery in order to greet him during his visit there following a local gun massacre. And he referred to the NRA as if it were a co-equal branch of the federal government.

Compared to all previous American presidents, that would have easily surpassed the irrational missteps they made during an entire time in office. For Trump, it was just his vacation week. Yet the press remains consistently timid in dealing with Trump's blatantly unstable behavior. Newsrooms today nearly uniformly refuse to address the mounting, obvious signs that Trump remains a deeply troubled man.

What does it mean for the most powerful leader in the free world to be acting in a bizarre and often seemingly schizophrenic fashion? And how is every administration official who appears on television not immediately and repeatedly asked whether Trump is mentally fit to hold office, and whether he poses a danger to this country? If the same journalists watched a foreign leader behaving as erratically as Trump does, that would be the first question they posed to officials.

The fact that a sitting president has unleashed so many bizarre public performances, punctuated by so many incomprehensible non sequiturs, means his stability and capacity ought to be questioned—and it ought to be a constant news story. But it's still not.

Of course, 2019 was the year that White House press briefings were officially canceled. In a move that once would have been considered an unthinkable act by any White House, the Trump team simply pulled the plug, leaving White House reporters with extremely limited access to officials who are willing to answer even the simplest questions about the administration's policies and agenda. In the face of that drastic action, news outlets took no collective action in response. They could have used their clout to send a powerful message if they had pulled their reporters out and signaled they weren't going to be used as props for the press charades the White House plays.

Instead, reporters dutifully gathered outside the White House to shout questions at Trump during his so-called "Chopper Talk" sessions as he approached the presidential helicopter on the White House grounds. The controlled chaos of those sessions, where reporters yell simplistic questions, allows Trump to pick and choose reporters at random, and to ignore questions he doesn't like. He’s also immune from follow-up questions and is free once again to lie indiscriminately, without being held accountable. All of which cable news outlets air in its entirety under the guise of "news."

And that's when the press wasn't being willingly duped in 2019 by Trump's team, and especially his attorney general, William Barr. In a signature press failure for the year, reporters for days played along with Department of Justice propaganda about the Mueller report and how it had supposedly exonerated Trump. But the only person claiming that at the time was Barr, who wouldn't allow reporters to see the full report. Undeterred, journalists simply took Barr's untrustworthy four-page press release and treated that as the full report. The New York Times rushed to report that Trump had been exonerated and that Mueller's conclusions had provided Trump with a "powerful boost" toward re-election. Reminder: Nobody at the Times had read a single page of the Mueller report. News outlets everywhere scrambled to produce pro-Trump headlines based on Barr's propaganda: "Mueller finds no conspiracy" (The Washington Post), "Mueller finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy" (The New York Times), "Mueller finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy" (Politico), "Mueller doesn’t find Trump campaign conspired with Russia" (The Wall Street Journal), "Mueller finds no Trump collusion, leaves obstruction open" (Associated Press).

They all soon discovered the obvious reality: Trump and his team had simply lied about the contents of the Mueller report, hoping (knowing?) that the press would fall for the false spin, which too many outlets did.

The key to covering Trump isn't some deep mystery for news organizations, and it doesn't require much sacrifice. It simply demands honesty and a willingness to be clear about what's happening in this country. Sadly, that was lacking in 2019.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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Media fail: The press keeps covering impeachment through the eyes of the Republican Party

The political press corps may have hit peak impeachment failure on Sunday when Meet the Press host Chuck Todd introduced a segment in which voters from a toss-up district in Michigan were interviewed about the House proceedings against Donald Trump. Touted as a way to take the temperature of everyday voters outside of the "Beltway," the sit-down with six voters from Kent County, Michigan, offered a chance to hear from America's heartland and if its denizens "care" about impeachment. Except there was a slight problem: Every voter interviewed was a Republican, and every voter interviewed opposed impeachment. ("I don’t even care. It's just noise.")

Keep in mind Democrats just won 40 House seats last year in what many observers saw as voters rewarding the party for vowing to stand up to Trump. Additionally, Republicans under Trump have lost control of the Virginia legislature, lost 435 state legislative seats nationwide while losing control of chambers in Colorado, New York, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Washington, and Maine, and lost the governor mansions in Louisiana and Kentucky. Yet the media narrative today regarding impeachment is that Democrats standing up to Trump are in danger of … upsetting voters? It doesn't make sense. But many journalists and news organizations have adopted that hollow “Democrats in Disarray” storyline.

Stressing "the quiet hand-wringing" that consumed Democratic leaders, The Washington Post last week insisted the party was "bracing" for Democratic defections when the articles of impeachment are soon voted on by the full House. The clear message was that the Democratic strategy was failing and might soon unravel as internal dissension set it, specifically among moderate Democrats who allegedly feared a voter backlash.

Yet in the end, it looks like one Democrat out of the party's House caucus of 233 members will vote no on impeachment. So much for the "bracing" for defections storyline, and how moderate Democrats were running scared. (Hint: The fact Trump publicly admitted to pressuring a foreign government to investigate his political foe has made the impeachment vote a pretty easy one for Democrats.) In an ironic twist, it turns out the only Democratic member of Congress who clearly faces a looming backlash back home over impeachment is Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who has vowed to vote against removing Trump from office. After polling from his district showed Democratic voters furious over such a move, Van Drew is reportedly considering switching to the Republican Party.

And talk about viewing impeachment only through the eyes of Republicans: Last week The Washington Post published a long article on Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, examining what the political fallout from impeachment has been for the "moderate" Republican. To determine that answer, the article  quoted three Republican officials and zero Democrats. The article quoted Stefanik, but not her Democratic opponent. The Post also interviewed the owner of a local diner who had "set up a shrine to the president—complete with a framed portrait, Trump books and a Trump doll." And guess what? After hearing mostly from Republicans, the Post concluded that impeachment has been working out just fine for the Republican congresswoman. Funny how that works.

Even when reporting on Democrats and impeachment, the framing has consistently been through a Republican prism. "On Verge Of Impeachment Vote, First-Term, Moderate Democrats Weigh A Political Risk," read a recent NPR headline, the type of which has been reproduced by scores of news outlets in recent days and revolves around GOP spin: It's Democrats who find themselves in a bind over impeachment, not Republicans. (Keep in mind, it's a Republican president being impeached.)

By the way, one reason why journalists aren't profiling first-term Republicans from swing districts to examine what the impeachment vote will mean for them is because there virtually are none. Why? Because Republicans got wiped out in those districts in 2018. And why did they get wiped out, especially in the suburbs? Because Trump remains deeply unpopular. Yet against that backdrop, the media claims it's Democrats who are on the defensive?

Half the country supports removing Republican Trump, the most consistently unpopular president in American history, and the press scrambles to explain why that's a problem for Democrats. January will feature the impeachment trial in the Senate. That means journalists still have time to stop telling the impeachment story through the eyes of the GOP.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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Media pushes 'Dems in disarray' narrative — despite party's overwhelming support for impeachment

Poised to pass two articles of impeachment in the full House this week, Democrats have remained extraordinarily united throughout the process while nearly half the country stands in favor of taking the drastic action of removing Donald Trump from office. Yet press coverage in recent days has suggested (surprise!) that Democrats are in a state of disarray, a favorite fallback position for much of the Beltway media, where Democrats are constantly portrayed as scrambling and being outsmarted by Trump and the GOP. In the process of focusing on Democrats and the alleged struggles impeachment presents, news outlets continue to eliminate Republicans from the entire process. The GOP, apparently, faces no impeachment fallout, only Democrats.

Don't forget that over the summer, before the Ukraine scandal broke and Trump admitted to pressuring a foreign government to help his reelection campaign, the press (led by The New York Times) was pushing the narrative that impeachment was a problem if Democrats did not launch hearings. Over and over reports appeared about how impeachment was splitting the party and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was facing an internal mutiny over the push for some members to impeach Trump in the wake of Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Back then, the press presented impeachment as a looming problem for Democrats if they didn't go through with it. Then almost immediately after Democrats announced the impeachment inquiry, the press (again led by the Times) flipped the script and suggested impeaching Trump posed a grave political danger for Democrats. In other words: heads Democrats lose, tails Democrats lose.

Meanwhile, where are all the reports about Republicans and how voting no on impeachment might hurt them next November? Apparently most journalists don't think Republicans have to return home to their districts and face uncomfortable questions, possibly from independent voters, about impeachment and about a president who's admitted to openly colluding with a foreign power in order to dig up dirt on his domestic political rival. Wouldn't the common-sense narrative be that it's Republicans who face an uncertain path as they prepare for a 2020 campaign season that will likely feature an unpopular Republican president facing an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate?

Instead, the press coverage remains centrally focused on "moderate" Democrats who are supposedly facing political peril next year. But again, who are all these Democratic moderates facing steep reelection challenges in conservative-leaning districts? As I recently noted, there's not a single Democratic member of the House who is expected to lose their seat next year, according to The Cook Political Report newsletter. Also, House Democrats representing districts Trump won in 2016 have already faced voters during the 2018 midterms, when Democrats mounted a blue wave and won 40 seats in the House.

Increasingly, the press has just eliminated Republicans from the impeachment coverage, and specifically what the political hurdles may be for the party. Politico last week published a story that emphasized how Democrats are facing a post-impeachment "dilemma" and "paradox" because if a remorseless Trump keeps committing impeachable offenses, Democrats will be boxed in, having just reprimanded him. "A post-impeachment Congress will present a tricky dynamic for Democrats," Politico reported. It just seems odd that we've arrived at the place where possible future lawbreaking by a Republican president is framed as a "dilemma" for … Democrats.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.

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CNN has yet another GOP problem

Last winter, CNN for weeks stood by its extraordinary and inexplicable decision to hire Sarah Isgur Flores, a career Republican Party operative with absolutely no journalism experience, to be the network’s political editor. A hardcore partisan, Isgur spent her career spinning for Republicans such as Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, and Carly Fiorina. Until last year, Isgur worked as a spokesperson for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice. CNN staffers were reportedly demoralized by the Isgur move—and for good reason, since CNN political editors should be journalists, period.

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Corporate press doesn't have the proper language to describe today's radical Republican Party

Extreme times call for extreme measures, but the Beltway press just isn't willing to make that move in the Trump era. As a consequence, the news media fail to accurately capture the radical changes now underway in the country, and how today's Republican Party has become purposefully untethered from reality.

"The idea that one party has become so radically different from the other, despite mountains of evidence, is a tough sell. It’s a hard sell to make for one very simple reason: It doesn’t have a name, this thing the Republicans are trying to do," notes Michael Tomasky. "It’s not true democracy that they want. But it’s also a bit much to call them outright authoritarians. And there’s nothing in between."

The impeachment saga poses the most obvious challenge for the press as virtually the entire Republican Party now backs absurd lies about Ukraine. "The inchoate and unproved nature of the Republican case against Ukraine has not prevented several GOP leaders from taking up the cause," The Washington Post recently reported, as the paper examined the Republican Party's embrace of the "incendiary conspiracy" that Ukraine worked to try to get Hillary Clinton elected in 2016.

With "inchoate and unproven," the paper clearly tried to convey the sense that Republicans were peddling untruths— without unequivocally stating that Republicans now lie about almost everything, including the garbage Ukraine claim, which has been pushed publicly by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Fact: No U.S. intelligence community report has ever accused Ukraine of interfering in the election. Trump, of course, is accused of using $400 million in United States military assistance to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden.

"Some Republican lawmakers continue to misleadingly say that the government of Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election on the same level as Russia, despite the GOP-led committee looking into the matter and finding little to support the allegation," CNN's Jake Tapper recently wrote. But again, we're not talking about Republicans trying to artfully spin a story in their favor by being "misleading." We're talking about Republican making stuff up, plain and simple. And the press should say so.

To CNN's credit, it recently documented all the "falsehoods" Trump spewed during one of his signature incoherent press events while he attended the NATO gathering of world leaders. "Speaking to reporters for more than two hours in total, Trump made at least 21 false claims. That's our initial count. The total may well grow once we have time to do some deeper fact-checking," reported CNN's Daniel Dale. "Embarking on a dishonesty blitz while at a foreign summit would be strange behavior for any other president. For Trump, long impervious to norms of propriety and accuracy, it was just another Tuesday."

And frankly that's how much of the coverage portrayed Trump's latest descent into madness: Just another day on the job. "Trump’s wild NATO display," read a recent Post headline. But the "wild" merely referred to the political chaos Trump created by making public statements at the global summit that clearly contradicted U.S. policy. Completely omitted from the report was the fact that Trump trafficked in lies nearly nonstop during his bizarre world stage appearance.

Journalists covering Trump need to embrace new language to describe his dangers.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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The media keeps ignoring the biggest story of the impeachment proceedings

With the House Judiciary Committee poised to take up the impeachment baton and hold a new round of public hearings this month, the Beltway press continues to absorb and echo Republican talking points that claim the inquiry isn't resonating with Americans. Because impeachments aren’t legal proceedings, the messaging wars that surround them take on added importance. And right now, by treating as no big deal the fact that basically half the country supports removing the president of the United States from office, the media is greatly helping Republicans spread their preferred impeachment message: The inquiry isn't resonating.

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Why is the media so obsessed with what Wall Street and billionaires think of Elizabeth Warren?

It turns out the media's obsession with the superrich isn't confined to the world of celebrity and entertainment. In politics, the press also seems utterly fascinated with how the 0.1% live, and especially what their political leanings are. For the 2020 campaign, that means a barrage of coverage about what Wall Street bankers and billionaires think about Elizabeth Warren and her populist agenda. They don't trust her! Some like her! Some won't donate! On and on it goes, as the press scurries to document the opinions of the superwealthy, but there's no explanation for why they're supposed to matter so much.

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How the media botched its coverage of Roger Stone and helped him hype Russian dark ops

News on Friday that a federal court convicted former Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone on seven counts, including obstruction of a proceeding, false statements, and witness tampering only added to Trump's woes as the second day of impeachment hearings played out in Washington. Stone’s conviction certainly added to an aura of criminality that surrounds Trump, as more aides and advisers are convicted and sentenced to prison time.

There's no way serious news outlets should have been dignifying a gutter player like Stone as a significant, professional political voice in 2016. "Stone is a thug who relishes personal insults, character assassination, and offensive gestapo-like tactics that should be unequivocally dismissed by civil society, most especially those who might give him a platform from which to spew his hatred," is what conservatives were saying about Stone that year.

But when it came to Trump, too many in the press changed all the rules in order to accommodate him. And one key rule was to pretend Stone wasn't a deeply odious and untrustworthy player.

Stone's star seemed to rise in the press because of his association with the story of the Democratic Party emails that were stolen and widely distributed to the media during the campaign. And that was the media's second major, Stone-related sin of the campaign season: Journalists actively, and irresponsibly, hyped a Russia dark ops campaign that Stone helped market.

Here's the key part: Despite their revisionist claims that they had no idea Russia was behind the email scheme, journalists knew in the summer of 2016 that Russia was connected to the hack, yet reporters and editors gleefully published the stolen documents anyway. WikiLeaks’ connection to the Kremlin has never been a deep mystery. "Throughout WikiLeaks’ existence, the allegedly pro-transparency group has had strange, shadowy, but very well-documented connections to the Russian state," Vox has noted.

In June 2016, a cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee posted a public notice that concluded that the hack had been carried out by two groups associated with Russian intelligence. And in July, top U.S. officials were confirming that Russians were behind the illegal attack on the DNC.

So why the media rush to do Russia's bidding in 2016? I've tweeted this many times, but if anyone thinks the same journalists and the same news outlets would have gorged on stolen Trump emails in 2016 if they had been hacked by Iranian government operatives, I know of a bridge that's for sale in Brooklyn. That scenario simply is not conceivable because the press would have instantly backed down to right-wing objections and claims the press was aiding and abetting an American foe and helping Iranians interfere in a U.S. election.

But with Clinton, the press wallowed in an unmistakable amusement as they pretended the benign emails pulled back the curtain and offered an unvarnished look at her. (They did not, unless you count risotto recipes as being an unvarnished look.) What unfolded in 2016 was comically breathless coverage of the emails, even though those pushing the hacked material often conceded that none of the emails revealed stunning information. After the campaign, the Times itself conceded that news organizations became “a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence” by publishing so many stories on the hacked emails.

The dirty little secret is that everyone in the D.C. press thought Clinton was going to win, and because there was a strange personal animus toward her, the press seemed to see its job as making sure she limped across the finish line and that her historic win be as unenjoyable as possible. The hacked emails provided a perfect vehicle for that harassment campaign.

Three prominent researchers who documented Russia's propaganda success in 2016 recently urged journalists to rethink how they treat hacked emails delivered by Russian intelligence. "Newsrooms should carefully consider how the volume of their coverage might be manipulated by strategic leaks," stressed Renee DiResta, Michael McFaul and Alex Stamos. "Most importantly, they need to break the cycle of amplifying disinformation by "covering the controversy."

That's sage advice. Here's some more for 2020: Don't follow the lead of bad actors like Roger Stone.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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The media must admit that the Republican Party is completely detached from reality

Republicans proudly advertised their radical ways during Wednesday's impeachment hearings into Donald Trump, wallowing in conspiracies and embracing debunked claims. The question now: How does the Beltway media cover a party that has aggressively removed itself from reality? How does the news business describe and treat a political party that routinely echoes the most unbelievable claims from Fox News and the darkest corners of the right-wing media?

Journalists really had no choice, given the stunning display Republicans put on at the hearings. And it wasn't just one or two rogue members who used their time to push fictional narratives about Ukraine supposedly double-crossing the United States during the 2016 American election, or claimed that there's simply no proof of an attempted "quid pro quo" with Ukraine, even though the White House transcript of a summer phone call with the country's leader clearly spells out exactly that.

It was the vast majority of Republican committee members, as well as the GOP's general counsel, who oversaw truly bizarre bouts of questioning that seemed to leave the witnesses at times stumped and confused, simply because the questions were not based in reality. Instead, they were based on close viewings of Sean Hannity's television program.

It wasn't spin or impassioned defense that was on display. It was up-is-down Orwellian rhetoric, and it had been telegraphed by Republicans for weeks, ever since the impeachment story broke, and ever since a parade of government officials began testifying about the obvious bribery scheme that was cooked up inside the White House. What happened with the hearings, though, was that the entire nation got to see the GOP’s descent into folly in full view.

But here's the key point: Most casual news consumers don't know that Republicans have become detached from reality as they watch the hearings unfold. (I mean, Republicans sound convincing when they spout convoluted claims about Ukraine working to elect Hillary Clinton.) And that's why it's important that journalists do their jobs and spell out what's truly going on, and not depend on the lazy both-sides crutch in order to avoid necessary truth-telling about the state of today's GOP.

This was a hallmark media failure during the Obama years, as the D.C. press steadfastly refused to report plainly on how radical the GOP was becoming. Republicans routinely obliterated Beltway precedents when it came to granting Obama the leeway that previous presidents were given by their partisan foes in Congress. Yet at each step along the way, journalists pulled back, refusing to detail the seismic shift taking place. Instead, news outlets  portrayed the obstruction as routine, and often blamed Obama for not being able to avoid the showdowns.

We saw it with the GOP's gun law obstructionism, the sequester obstructionism, the government shutdown obstructionism, the Chuck Hagel confirmation obstructionism, the Susan Rice secretary of state nomination obstructionism, the Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstructionism, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

When Republicans wouldn't allow a vote on the Obama-backed background check bill in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre in Connecticut, even though the initiative enjoyed 90% public support, the press didn't depict the obstruction as radical. Instead, the news media often blamed Obama for not being able to work with Republicans. (He doesn't schmooze enough!)

When Republicans announced in the winter of 2016 that they would categorically ignore any Supreme Court nominee Obama put forward in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia's death, the press pretended that it was Obama who was sparking a "partisan" fight simply by fulfilling his constitutional duty.

The impeachment hearings confirm that Republicans have taken complete flight from reality. It’s the media’s job to say so.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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Why is the media cheering Trump for his campaign of lies?

It’s gone from bad to worse: After spending years refusing to call Donald Trump a liar, the press is now toasting his reelection campaign, which is built on lies.

"The campaign under Mr. [Brad] Parscale is focused on pushing its product—Mr. Trump—by churning out targeted ads, aggressively testing the content and collecting data to further refine its messages," the Times marveled.

At least a recent Washington Post report gently noted so many of Trump's online ads aren’t true: "Some of the ads accused the freshman [Democratic] lawmakers of making “pro-terrorist remarks,” which they have not done." But that salient fact garnered just a passing mention.

When the press touts his online reelection campaign as a masterful stroke of marketing and largely ignores the fact that it's built on a mountain of falsehoods, this all amounts to another way that Trump's signature lies get normalized. Has the press become so numb to Trump's torrent of untruths that news outlets are prepared to shrug their collective shoulders when blatant lies emerge as the driving force of a U.S. presidential campaign? That's stunning, considering that just a few years ago the same news outlets manned fact-checking teams to put campaign ads under a microscope in search of misleading information.

It's the same type of normalizing Facebook now does when it throws up its hands and says politicians in the Trump era are allowed to lie in their ads, knowing full well there's only one party that traffics in lies incessantly: the Republican Party.

One Trump ad clearly has been labeled false by the press, in part because it became the centerpiece of a campaign battle over Facebook's porous policy retarding the truth. The clip from the Trump campaign erroneously claimed that Joe Biden offered the Ukraine government $1 billion in U.S. aid if it stopped an investigation into a company tied to his son. The preposterous claims had already been debunked, and CNN refused to play the ad. But Facebook rejected the Biden campaign’s demand the ad be taken down. The lie-riddled Trump video has been viewed well over 5 million times.

Meanwhile, also being quietly set aside by the press in its mostly positive reporting on Trump's online reelection machinery is the fact there's no proof yet that any of it is working. For instance, the Times noted that in an attempt to change the narrative, the GOP campaign quickly spent more than $10 million in the wake of Democrats launching the impeachment inquiry one month ago. "The biggest political crisis of Trump’s presidency is translated into an “impeachment defense task force” to fire up supporters and tap their wallets," the paper reported, clearly impressed. (Trump's impeachment-related ads have been viewed tens of millions of times on Facebook.) Because spending more money automatically means success, apparently.

Yet since that time, the percentage of Americans in favor of impeachment and of removing Trump from office has only increased. Overall, there's been no improvement in Trump's reelection chances since his campaign started spending tens of millions of dollars on Facebook ads. Doesn't that suggest Trump's team is flushing away a lot of money online? Doesn't that suggest the Trump campaign might not be so savvy and that Democrats might not actually be in disarray?

Recently, Axios touted the fact that online, "Trump attracted three times the attention of all the Democratic candidates combined, underscoring how he consumes the social media conversation." But again, there's no evidence that people talking online about Trump more often than they're talking about Democratic candidates means good news for him, since it’s obvious that lots of people online hate Trump and that's why they talk about him.

Trump's online reelection campaign is unlike any in American history, simply because it's willfully detached from facts and the truth. It's stunning that the Beltway press looks at something that reckless and labels it super savvy.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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CNN made a huge mistake with its new hire — and the problem is only going to get worse

How do you solve a problem like Sean Duffy? The former Republican congressman, who was hired by CNN to blindly defend Donald Trump while the impeachment process unfolds, is creating problems for the network by constantly fabricating facts and spreading reckless and dangerous conspiracy theories. And yes, he's only been on the CNN payroll for 10 days.

That might sound extreme, but it's simply the truth. Any conservatives and Republicans who still acknowledge reality have broken away from Trump's orbit of support, leaving behind only cult-like followers, or those who pretend to be.

This means there is no off switch for people like Duffy who have downed gallons of the Trump Kool-Aid. He believes this stuff. He's part of a disturbing conservative movement today that is utterly and completely detached from reality. That means when you hire an active member of that movement, such as Duffy, guess what? You're hiring someone who is utterly and completely detached from reality.

Is that the brand CNN is going for? And is that the brand CNN is going for as impeachment gathers momentum and Trump's presidency teeters on the brink? (Yes, i realize it’s also possible this is all done by design, in that CNN hires someone controversial and then basks in the attention he or she creates.)

Duffy didn't run into a buzz saw this week because he misspoke or suddenly said something controversial. Duffy embarrassed CNN this week because he said precisely what's on his mind. So of course, Duffy will continue to embarrass CNN in coming days, weeks, and months. And that's what CNN producers and senior management now have to grapple with. Are they prepared, on a regular basis, to clean up after Duffy after he says something insulting and embarrassing on the air, or just makes stuff up about pressing issues of the day? On Tuesday, it was Duffy questioning the patriotism of a Purple Heart recipient. Who knows what it will be next week when yet another CNN anchor will be forced to carve out airtime to basically say “I’m sorry” to viewers for whatever nonsense Duffy was trafficking that day.

Last week, when pressed about the hiring of Duffy, CNN chief Jeff Zucker insisted it was all done in the name of diversity. "It's my belief that we should represent out there what those who support Donald Trump think. ... We need those voices and I think there's a place for them." He added: "I acknowledge there are people who disagree with me on that. I feel strongly that their point of view should be heard."

So, Zucker "feels strongly" that paid CNN contributors be heard when they question the patriotism of Purple Heart recipients. Noted. By the way, this is the same thin argument Facebook executives are using to defend teaming up with the dishonest and racist site Breitbart News in the social media's new news initiative: They're just looking for a wide array of views!

If CNN executives were smart, they would nip this failed experiment in the bud. They'd part ways with Duffy, admit it did not work, and try to find a different conservative voice for the network's Both Sides presentation. Because I can guarantee you, CNN's Duffy problem is only going to get worse.

Why won't CNN act? Because politically, cutting Duffy loose would spark mob-like attacks from the right-wing media, from Republicans, and likely from the White House, as the network would be condemned for its supposed "liberal media bias." That’s not a fight Zucker and CNN want to have.

And remember: They're paying Duffy to create this mess.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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The media is making a huge blunder by taking Republicans' complaints about impeachment seriously

Nancy Pelosi called the GOP's impeachment bluff this week, and in doing so she completely undercut the "process" attacks they have been making about the House inquiry. Demanding that a formal House vote be held on impeachment, Republicans have insisted the lack of a vote represents a tell-tale sign that the inquiry is unfair. But now that vote is scheduled to take place on Thursday, robbing Republicans of a preferred talking point.

By the way, the reasons for Democrats holding private interviews, and conducting them like grand jury hearings, are obvious: They minimize political grandstanding by lawmakers and witnesses. They allow staff attorneys to ask questions for extended blocks of time, and private interviews prevent witnesses from lining up their stories in advance by simply watching what other witnesses say during public hearings.

To its credit, The Washington Post recently published a stinging editorial condemning Republicans for their bogus "process" attacks. "There is an old Washington saying that if you’re arguing about process, you’re losing," the Post editorial board wrote. "A follow-on maxim might be: If you are wrong on process, too, you must really be in trouble."

But this frank discussion should not be restricted to the opinion pages. The fact is, Democrats are following the established rules, as National Memo's Joe Conason helpfully pointed out. "House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), today insists the impeachment inquiry shouldn’t proceed unless the Republicans are permitted to issue subpoenas — but the rule that awards subpoena power exclusively to the majority is precisely what he and his cronies approved four years ago," Conason wrote.

That rather central point was completely omitted by The New York Times in a recent news article headlined, "Republicans Fight Trump’s Impeachment by Attacking the Process." The story presented a partial, Both Sides picture (i.e. Republicans are attacking the process, and Democrats say it's fair). But that leaves out a lot. For instance, during the impeachment inquiries of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, the minority power did not enjoy unilateral subpoena power, and fact-finding interviews were often held behind closed doors. (The public hearings came later.)

What the Times article did contain though, were many, many quotes from angry Republicans denouncing the "process." And again, that is what has been shortsighted about the coverage: reporters scrambling to collect outraged Republican quotes without including proper context that the GOP beefs are utterly unwarranted.

Most Republican senators are supporting an unusual, non-binding resolution that publicly condemns the House for how it's handling its business—in this case, the impeachment business of Trump. The GOP move has generated lots of press coverage even though it's little more than a stunt, since the Senate, by design, has no say in how the House conducts its hearings. And the coverage has consisted of little more than journalists transcribing (surprise!) angry quotes from Republicans. A Hill dispatch on the resolution last week included seven quotes from Republicans, and zero quotes from Democrats. The article also completely failed to point out House Democrats are following rules established by Republicans.

That Times report also quoted a portion of the Senate resolution denouncing the House, claiming the House inquiry "ignores the procedural rights given to the investigating committee’s minority in previous presidential impeachments." And yes, that would have been a good moment for the Times to point out the House is following rules previously passed by Republicans.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported Democrats were being forced to "defend" hosting private impeachment interviews, as the paper embraced GOP talking points. And the Post suggested the House Republican protest last week was "weird" because instead of being locked out of the impeachment hearings, lots of Republicans were attending them and asking questions. (They often use their question time to push debunked conspiracy theories.)

Using the word "weird" suggests Republicans simply can't see the flaw in their logic. But they can. They know their claims are hollow and bogus. They're just hoping the press doesn't say so.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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Facebook and the media keeping empowering right-wing peddlers of hate like Breitbart

Here we go again: Facebook just became the latest traditional media player to enable the right-wing hate of Breitbart News.

When he was alive, there likely wasn't a glossy magazine or major newspaper in America that didn't publish a feel-good profile of Andrew Breitbart, the site's founder, as journalists worked overtime to whitewash the noxious hate that fueled Breitbart's often manic behavior and the site's racist content. A chronic liar like Donald Trump, Breitbart oversaw a hateful opposition research firm that pretended to be in the news business, and the Beltway press loved him, eagerly puffing up his reputation.

Perhaps the most famous (and regrettable) example of the traditional media enabling a hate site like Breitbart was when The New York Times in 2015 openly helped market the anti-Hillary Clinton book Clinton Cash, written by a Breitbart acolyte and published by Rupert Murdoch. It was the Times that trumpeted the “focused reporting” of Clinton Cash as “the most anticipated and feared book of a presidential cycle still in its infancy,” and said that it would prove to be “problematic” and “unsettling” for the Clintons. The book featured an extraordinarily long list of errors, corrections, and retractions, but that didn't seem to bother the Times.

What's especially regrettable today is that Facebook is elevating Breitbart at a time when liberal activists, led by the Sleeping Giants online collective, have convinced so many advertisers to pull their business from the toxic site. Since 2016, more than 4,000 advertisers have severed ties with Breitbart, causing the site to lose 90% of its ad revenue, according to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who once ran Breitbart. The site has also been losing traffic at an alarming rate in recent years. "Since Trump became president, monthly traffic has virtually collapsed, plummeting nearly 75 percent," The Washington Post reported in July. Yet against a backdrop of vanishing advertisers and vanishing readers, Facebook steps forward and rewards Breitbart with a seal of approval from the largest media entity on the planet.

There should be no debate about whether Breitbart is a legitimate news site or deserves to be treated as such. It is, quite often, a sewer—and one that functions in an ethics-free zone.

In 2018, when Republican Roy Moore was running for one of Alabama’s U.S. Senate seats and was accused of having sexually assaulted a teenager, the attorney representing his accuser was approached by two Moore supporters who wanted the attorney to discredit his client in exchange for a large cash payment. The lawyer's statement would be given exclusively to Breitbart News. But that's not all: Two Breitbart reporters actually attended the meeting with the attorney and reportedly pressured him to sign the incriminating statement against Moore's accuser.

Two years ago, BuzzFeed News published explosive documents confirming that Breitbart actively solicited story ideas from neo-Nazi leaders. Maybe that's why in 2017 the credentials committee for Capitol Hill reporters denied Breitbart a permanent press pass. Then, last year, a Bloomberg report revealed that during the 2016 election, Breitbart reporter Dustin Stockton worked as an “off-the-books political operative” for the Trump campaign.

The background of all this is that Facebook has a long, shameful history of kowtowing to the right-wing mob. In 2016, a dubious press report suggested that Facebook editors were "suppressing conservative news," which set off right-wing hysteria. In frantic reaction, Facebook eliminated human editors, or "news curators," from the news selection process and replaced them with an algorithm. That move unleashed a tidal wave of fake news stories on Facebook, which helped Trump get elected. Incredibly, Zuckerberg then hired a retired far-right Republican U.S. senator to investigate whether Facebook is guilty of conservative bias.

Today, a bullied Facebook is continuing the media’s shameful tradition of mainstreaming Breitbart hate.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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CNN hired a habitual liar as the Republicans' strategy to 'work the refs' pays off

Former Republican Rep. Sean Duffy, recently hired by CNN to be a paid political commentator, can't stop fabricating facts when he goes on the air. Since making his CNN debut on Sunday, Duffy has lied about the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords. He's lied about Joe Biden trying to fire a Ukraine prosecutor in order to protect his son. And Duffy's helped spread the preposterous lie about the Democratic National Committee's email servers from 2016 somehow ending up in a foreign country.

CNN has hired many such Trump loyalists who have chewed up the cable news scenery, spreading lie after preposterous lie. That includes people like Jason Miller, Jack Kingston, Ed Martin, Jeffrey Lord, and Corey Lewandowski, among others. None of them, to be generous, covered the network in glory. Following the 2018 school massacre at Parkland High School in Florida, Kingston claimed on the air that students who rallied against gun violence were being taken advantage of by "left-wing gun control activists" led by billionaire George Soros.

It all badly muddies the waters, because by allowing—and paying—people like Duffy to disseminate nonsense like he's already spewed about DNC servers, CNN is legitimizing that lie, even when it’s fact-checked. "First of all, what you are stating is completely inaccurate and factually wrong," CNN contributor Jen Psaki told Duffy when he started in with the server conspiracy. "It's a conspiracy theory on the right-wing blogs." And frankly, that's where that garbage should stay.

By hiring someone like Duffy at this juncture, it appears CNN has learned very little since 2017, and specifically very little about how to cover a liar like Trump. It's not up to CNN and other media players to hire bad actors simply because the conservative movement is filled with bad actors. All news outlets ought to have easily identifiable standards, and if would-be paid contributors can't meet those standards, they should not be hired.

Keep in mind that CNN remains under constant bullying attacks from Trump and the entire conservative movement. Last year, the White House lashed out at CNN by pulling reporter Jim Acosta's press pass. Trump routinely defames the network on Twitter. And just last week, Trump's personal attorney sent a ridiculous threat to CNN, threatening to sue the network for its "biased" coverage of Trump. ("Never in the history of this country has a President been the subject of such a sustained barrage of unfair, unfounded, unethical and unlawful attacks by so-called ‘mainstream’ news, as the current situation,” etc.) Lawyers everywhere mocked the move as deeply unserious, but the cumulative effect adds up.

And that makes Duffy’s hiring even more distressing. It certainly seems to send a signal that “working the refs” is an effective strategy, and that if Republicans complain loudly and long enough, the cable news channel will bend, in small ways, to the GOP's will.

Recall that back in January, CNN seemed to make a similar and equally misguided concession to Trump when it hired a hyper-partisan Republican flack with no experience in journalism to oversee the network's campaign news coverage. After a public outcry, CNN changed the Republican's job duties.

Note to CNN: It's not too late to do the same with Duffy.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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DC press whitewashes its role in 2016 email fiasco after State Department exonerates Clinton

Page 16 and 649 words. That’s how The New York Times treated the recent news that a years-long State Department investigation concluded there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information via emails sent to and from Hillary Clinton's private server while she was secretary of state. The Times covered that story regarding a seminal event from the 2016 campaign by publishing a single, brief article buried deep inside its A-section last Saturday. It was almost like the Times newsroom was telling readers, “Nothing to see here, folks.”

The Times on Saturday noted that Clinton had been "dogged" during the 2016 campaign by the email story. The Washington Post was equally passive, referring to "a controversy that overshadowed the 2016 presidential campaign and exposed Clinton to fierce criticism that she later cited as a major factor in her loss to President Trump."

But who "dogged" Clinton relentlessly for more than a year regarding a story that Trump's State Department has now confirmed was a nothing burger? And who were those leveling "fierce criticism" about her email protocol? According to the Times' telling, it was "Republicans" who pursued Clinton on the email story. And the Post claims it is Trump who attacked Clinton about her emails.

Left unsaid, of course, was the fact that the Beltway press positively owned the email story for more than a year and treated it as one of the most pressing news stories of this decade. In September 2015, the Postfor instance, averaged more than two Clinton email dispatches every day of the month. In doing so, the press dishonestly portrayed Clinton as untrustworthy and secretive, which is precisely how the GOP wanted her to be depicted. In eight of the 10 weeks between July 11 and Sept. 18, 2016, “email” was the word most Americans associated with the Clinton campaign coverage, according to Gallup.

Why? Because during the political convention weeks in summer 2016, the press spent twice as much time covering Clinton emails as it did covering all of Clinton’s policy positions. CNN’s The Situation Room seemed especially obsessed: emails represented 17% of the program’s Clinton coverage during the four-week summertime span. Meanwhile, network evening newscasts in 2016 aired just 32 minutes of in-depth campaign policy reporting. By comparison, ABC World NewsCBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News devoted nearly three times as much coverage—100 minutes—just to the Clinton email story.

The first woman to be nominated by a major party for president was defined, almost completely, by the electronic communication platform she used several years earlier while serving as secretary of state. Funny how Colin Powell wasn’t defined by the private emails he used as secretary of state. (And then deleted.) Jeb Bush wasn’t defined by the private email he used as governor of Florida. President George W. Bush’s administration wasn’t defined by the fact that nearly two dozen White House aides used private email accounts controlled by the Republican National Committee. And Mitt Romney wasn’t defined by the fact that his staff wiped away all the emails from the Republican’s years as Massachusetts governor.

For the press, the only private email story that mattered was Clinton's, because it offered us a window into her allegedly crooked soul.

Basically, the Clinton emails became the new Whitewater—a "scandal" in search of a crime. Here’s the dirty secret about what fuels Clinton scandal coverage, and what has always fueled the wayward pursuit: journalists were invested. And when it comes to the email story, they’ve been deeply invested since March 2015. For the press, the hollow “scandal” allowed them to harp on Clinton’s supposed untrustworthiness. It also allowed them to show Republicans that they were putting the Democratic nominee under a microscope and prove they don’t have a "liberal media bias."

For the record, the fact that the entire email "scandal" was bogus was fairly evident in real time. (See this Newsweek piece, from March 2015.) It's just that most of the press opted to play dumb on an epic scale regarding the story because the press liked the email story. The press liked that it was hurting Clinton, whom everyone assumed would defeat Trump. Harassing her with endless email coverage was a way to make sure her historic victory didn't taste very sweet, and that she limped across the finish line. Part of that sprang from a never-ending attempt to criminalize the Clintons. In the end, the relentlessly incendiary email coverage helped get Trump elected.

Yet rather than addressing that gaping, stunning failure in its 2016 coverage, the news media have opted to quietly move on.

Nothing to see here, folks.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.

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Fox News is getting trounced in the public opinion battle over Trump impeachment ⁠— here's why

Shepard Smith's recent, abrupt resignation isn’t the only crisis Fox News is facing these days. Aside from allegations that conservatives simply will not tolerate any dissenting voices amid a chorus that worships Donald Trump, the right-wing cable news outlet is struggling as it tries to fight the public opinion battle over impeachment. The unfolding inquiry in the House is by definition a political fight, not a legal one, which means the messaging wars surrounding it are paramount as both sides try to rally public support. To date, Democrats are clearly winning that battle, as polling consistently shows widening support for impeachment.

In fact, the White House's messaging attempts have been a mess, mostly because the effort is being driven by Trump. He spends his days blatantly contradicting himself on the Ukraine story while engaging in whiny, vindictive outbursts against his perceived enemies.

Ever since news of the Ukraine whistleblower broke approximately four weeks ago, every fact pattern has run counter to the White House spin. Scores of new revelations make it nearly impossible for Trump to maintain a lucid defense. A stunningly clear picture has emerged: "The president’s personal lawyer was paid by crooked businessmen from a foreign country, and then the president gave him authority over American policy toward that country," tweeted Christian Vanderbrouk. "This is precisely what the founders meant by “high crimes and misdemeanors.""

And really, the huge issue—and it's been Fox News' roadblock since the Ukraine scandal broke—is that Trump immediately confessed to the crime of collusion. Unlike the Russia election interference investigation, when the Trump and GOP mantra was, "No collusion" and gave Fox News an obvious rallying cry, Trump has conceded he sought the help of a foreign power for his re-election campaign.

Naturally, Fox News has seamlessly slipped into its role of public defender, insisting there's nothing wrong with presidents trolling the globe in search of campaign opposition research via foreign governments. But that message appears to be faltering, even among Republicans. In a recent Washington Post poll, nearly 30% (!) of Republican voters say they support the House's impeachment inquiry, and almost one-fifth of Republicans say they favor a vote recommending the president’s removal. A new poll out of North Carolina shows Trump's support among Republicans, which usually tops out at 90 percent, has fallen to 75 percent in the Tar Heel state.

Reminder: Fox News was supposed to make sure there were no cracks in the Trump base regarding impeachment. Fox News is supposed to act as Trump's impeachment firewall. So far, that’s not working.

Meanwhile, it's obvious the collusion-is-fine strategy is also not working outside of the Fox News bubble, as impeachment momentum escalates by the week, even before Democrats hold fact-finding hearings. "Americans are more eager to impeach Trump now than they were at similar points in the impeachment sagas of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon," CNN reports. "At no point during the impeachment proceedings against Clinton did anywhere close to a plurality of Americans want Clinton impeached and removed from office."

Fox News is most effective, and dangerous, when its attacks and messaging overlap with stories the Beltway press also wants to tell, like portraying Hillary Clinton as a conniving, untrustworthy villain during the 2016 campaign. For now, the Beltway press isn't buying what Fox News is selling regarding Ukraine and impeachment, which means Fox News' shaky Trump defense is only playing to the echo chamber.

Also not helping is the fact that Fox News has often been batshit crazy. Recently, former U.S. attorney, conspiracy peddler, and Trump loyalist Joseph E. diGenova appeared on the network to describe the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Trump, calling their efforts “regicide,” which is defined as the act of killing a king. “What you’re seeing is regicide,” diGenova told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. "This is regicide by another name, fake impeachment. The Democrats in the House want to destroy the president." He later attacked whistleblowers as "suicide bombers" and accused Democrats of sedition.

That’s just a small taste of the impeachment madness currently filling Fox News’ airwaves. No wonder it’s not working.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.

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Why the official story of Shep Smith's abrupt departure from Fox News doesn't add up

Shepard Smith’s sudden departure from Fox News signaled that the drawbridge has effectively been raised, and all Trump nonbelievers belong on the other side of Rupert Murdoch's cable castle. No longer a place where any serious dissension—or Trump fact-checking—is allowed, Fox News has embraced its core mission of disseminating propaganda. The move shouldn't be surprising given the state of today's cultish right-wing media, where devotion to Trump now dictates so much of the content. It's a conservative media movement that has never been concerned with facts and accuracy, but today has descended into something even more irresponsible.

The public story from Fox News is that the move was Smith’s decision alone. Additional reporting suggested Smith felt increasingly uncomfortable with Fox News’ direction and content during the Trump era. But bolting mid-contract and shocking the whole company on a Friday afternoon simply is not how these situations are normally handled. Fox News is in the communications business. The way a company like that communicates a major on-air departure is with a well-choreographed joint statement. Instead, Fox appeared completely flat-footed as Smith announced his departure live on national television, and then quickly slipped out the back door of the company's Sixth Avenue offices.

Also, why is Smith uncomfortable now? Fox News has been a cesspool of misinformation for many, many years. What became so pressing that the afternoon anchor simply could not continue working where he'd been working for more than two decades? Was it a coincidence Smith had to break his contract two weeks after getting into a public feud with Tucker Carlson, one of the network’s signature Trump sycophants? (Smith's bosses were noticeably mute in defending him while the Carlson spat played out.) Was it a coincidence Smith had to suddenly break his contract the same week Trump errand boy Attorney General William Barr met privately with Smith’s boss, Rupert Murdoch, at a time Trump was whining about what he perceived as slights in Fox News' coverage? And let's be honest, who walks away from a $15 million-a-year job because they suddenly have vague feelings of corporate unease?

Meanwhile, Smith's departure generated lots of chatter about what a blow it was to Fox's "news division," and how serious journalists at the cable channel felt so demoralized by his exit. Fact: The Fox "news division" is a unicorn because it doesn't really exist. Yes, the Beltway conventional wisdom is that Fox is merely "opinionated" at night but that the rest of the day’s programming deals with legit news gathering. And to that I always say: You've seen Fox & Friends in the morning and The Five in the afternoon, right? The two shows represent a bottomless pit of propaganda, lies, and smear attacks on Democrats. “Oh but wait, Brett Baier is a serious anchor who’s on at 6 PM,” I'm constantly told. The same Brett Baier who, one week before the 2016 election, reported on-air that Hillary Clinton would soon be indicted? I'll pass.

Smith's exit puts the final exclamation point on that, since my guess is there's virtually no chance his 3 to 4 PM time slot, when Shepard Smith Reporting aired, remains reality-based without him at the helm. Smith himself worried about that, which was one of the stated reasons why he renewed his contract back in 2018. "To stop doing it would be bad because I think that there is a need for it and I know the degree to which we care about it and focus on it and we want it to be as perfect as it can be," he told Time in March of that year. "And I wonder, if I stopped delivering the facts, what would go in its place in this place that is most watched, most listened, most viewed, most trusted? I don’t know."

Smith's weekday program often offered a brief, 60-minute window into a fact-based world to Fox News viewers. That window has now been shut, and Fox News is officially hermetically sealed.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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Democratic candidates are finally punching back against corporate media's shoddy press coverage

Democrats running for president have a new message for the news media: We’re not going to take it anymore.

My sense is also that for way too long, Beltway Democrats remained wedded to the idea that the press was actually their friend and ally, and that The New York Times for instance, was on the "side" of progressives. But the Times, of course, has been at the forefront of tearing down a long list of Democratic nominees in recent years.

Today, determined not to get 'Hillary'd,' or 'Gore'd,' or 'swift boated' like previous Democratic nominees Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry, who all lost extremely closes races after being treated unfairly by the press (led by dubious Times coverage in all three instances), more Democrats are stating up front that they're not going to politely stand back and ignore what they see as unfair and unprofessional media coverage. In 2016, the press obsessed so much over the phony Clinton email "scandal" that coverage of her policy initiatives got obliterated. In 2000, the press took the GOP bait and spent the entire campaign depicting Gore, previously known as a Boy Scout-like politician, as a craven liar. And Kerry was the subject of a vicious, extended smear campaign as partisan Vietnam War veterans, cheered on by Republicans, lied about his war record while the Beltway press amplified the bogus swift boat claims for weeks on end.

The Biden campaign last week also dispatched letters to both Facebook and Twitter, urging them not to run an ad that spread the debunked theory about Biden and Ukraine. "Whether it originates from the Kremlin or Trump Tower, these lies and conspiracy theories threaten to undermine the integrity of our elections in America," the campaign stressed.

Biden hasn't been alone among candidates voicing clear media critiques. In the wake of yet another rash of mass shootings, Beto O'Rourke was asked if he thought Trump’s racist, anti-immigration rhetoric had led to immigrants being targeted. "Like, members of the press, what the fuck?" the Democrat responded. "It’s these questions that you know the answers to."

Bernie Sanders also recently offered up a blunt critique of the news media. "There are six major media conglomerates, including Time Warner which owns CNN, which control about 90% of the media in this country in terms of what we see, hear and read. Between you and me, that is a very dangerous situation," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "The CEOs make tens of millions of dollars a year in compensation. They have an agenda, and I worry about that, as I do worry about concentration of ownership in agribusiness, in Wall Street and in many other areas." (Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard has aired critiques of the press this campaign season, but they strike me as being un-serious and often incoherent.)

There's no question Democrats face in uphill battle on this front, not only because they're getting a late start in the larger debate, but because the Beltway press responds differently to media critiques coming from the left and the right. Eternally spooked by the conservative claim of "liberal media bias," journalists tend to be hypersensitive to GOP allegations of malpractice. At the same time, political journalists often ignore criticism, or become extremely defensive when their work is questioned by Democrats and liberals.

Nonetheless, the ongoing media debate is one that Democrats desperately need to part of. And for the 2020 campaign, they will be.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.

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Visiting foreign journalists call out Trump's increasingly erratic behavior. Why won't the DC press?

Donald Trump's stupefying public performances last Wednesday as the widening collusion scandal continued to gain momentum were stunning, even by his erratic standards. Trump uncorked rambling, incoherent, angry, whiny monologues that were filled with lies and rattled conspiracy theories. That's when he wasn't yelling at a Reuters reporter and threatening to sue members of Congress. Incredibly, both disturbing Alex Jones-style performances were delivered inside the White House by a sitting American president.

When Australia's prime minister visited the White House last month and took part in yet another bizarre press event with Trump, one stunned Australian journalist covering the event turned to a Wall Street Journal reporter and asked, "Is it always like this?"

Also traveling to the U.S. from Australia recently, Guardian journalist Lenore Taylor wrote about how amazed she was to watch Trump speak in person for extended monologues, how utterly incoherent his comments were, and how often reporters clean up those comments in order to make them seem sensible and normal within the context of news articles. "Watching just one press conference helped me understand how the process of reporting about this president can mask and normalize his full and alarming incoherence," she wrote in a piece headlined, "As a foreign reporter visiting the US I was stunned by Trump's press conference."

Speaking of normalizing the incoherence, the Times described Trump's manic Wednesday meltdowns this way: "President Trump used two events at the White House with the president of Finland on Wednesday to challenge Democrats as they pressed ahead with their investigation into whether Mr. Trump had abused the power of his office in seeking political dirt from Ukraine." Pretty pedestrian, right?

Why the larger hesitation among the American press? Why the lack of necessary truth-telling? It's likely the same reason lots of large news organizations, to this day, won't call Trump a liar, even though he's on pace to tell more than 16,000 lies while in office. News outlets don't want to take heat from conservatives and from the administration for calling Trump a liar. So even though they've documented that he lies all the time, reporters opt for timid words like "falsehoods" to soften the blow.

The same is true with regard to Trump's increasingly unhinged behavior. I doubt there are many members of the Washington press corps who watch Trump's unsettling public screeds and think, “He seems stable, and I have no questions about his mental capacity.” They all know it's a pressing issue. But newsrooms don't want to suffer the backlash—the shouts of "Liberal media bias!"—that would target any journalists who tackle the story, even though it's so obviously newsworthy.

So instead of telling the truth regarding Trump's dangerously erratic behavior, we get watered-down "stormy" and "fiery"-type coverage from the Beltway media. Thankfully, outsider journalists often provide a fresh perspective. As impeachment heats up (along with Trump’s madness), we’re going to need that clear-eyed viewpoint.

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Major newspapers show stunning cowardice as they refuse to call on Trump to resign

Openly colluding with a foreign government to dig up dirt on his political opponent, while offering up the assistance of the Department of Justice. Freezing U.S. foreign aid to make sure the overseas dirt gets dug. Hiding transcripts of presidential calls on secret servers in hopes of covering up the collusion. Publicly threatening to expose the collusion whistleblower, insinuating that he or she should be executed. Urging that a Democratic member of Congress be arrested for treason. The list of horrendous Donald Trump transgressions uncovered in the past week stretches on and on, as the pressure of an impeachment inquiry intensifies and the unhinged president denounces Democratic election officials as "savages" while warning of a looming civil war if he's removed from office.

Demands for resignation certainly would not force Trump from office. But clarion calls would help change the national debate and more accurately reflect the crisis our country faces with a pathological liar at the helm.

More irony: For weeks and months, many pundits lectured Democrats about not having the guts to do the right thing and start impeachment proceedings against a crooked president. Now Democrats have, and newspapers are the ones sitting on the sidelines—and on the wrong side of history. That loud condescending voice of moral indignation that rained down on Clinton? That's been replaced by curious timidity. And my hunch is that it has a lot to do with the struggling newspaper industry and its fear of losing subscribers that happen to be angry Republican readers. Note that former New York Times editorial writer Sarah Jeong recently tweeted, "NYT does pay attention to subscriber cancellations. It’s one of the metrics for 'outrage' that they take to distinguish between 'real' outrage and superficial outrage."

Is that what's holding them back? A Washington Post editorial last week labeled the Trump-Ukraine phone call a "devastating indictment of the U.S. President," while an unsigned Times editorial stressed, "This board has made clear its own view of Mr. Trump’s unfitness for his office." So why not call for his resignation?

Recently, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an editorial that tiptoed up to the resignation line. Instead of making a clear demand, the editorial suggested that Republicans convince Trump to step down for the good of the country. Of course, that's a political fantasy, as Republican members of Congress are instead scrambling to protect Trump. The idea that the GOP is going to suddenly embrace a fact-based look at the engulfing scandal just isn't realistic.

I can hear some howls of protest: “Trump hasn't been convicted of anything, so it wouldn't be right to demand that he resign!” Well, Clinton hadn't been convicted of anything either when dozens of newspapers ordered him out of office. There were, for instance, The Philadelphia Inquirer ("Bill Clinton should resign. He should resign because his repeated, reckless deceits have dishonored his presidency beyond repair") and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ("A president more concerned with the national interest than his own preservation would realize that resignation is his only responsible option").

Meanwhile, the newspapers’ reluctance to demand Trump’s resignation would be understandable if the enveloping Ukraine collusion scandal had been a lightning-bolt allegation out of the blue, striking a president with an otherwise pristine record of public service. If that were the case, I could see holding off to see where all this is going. But, good grief, these are credible and urgent allegations about a president who has run the White House as an ethical cesspool.

The continued silence sounds more and more like political cowardice.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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The press has a Rudy Giuliani problem

The impeachment battle lines now appear to have been drawn in terms of the unfolding messaging war that will dominate the airwaves for months to come: Democrats are doggedly perusing the checked-out claims of a government whistleblower, while Republicans are lying about everything.

"The strategy is obvious for anyone watching," tweeted Joe Lockhart, former press secretary in the Bill Clinton White House. "Trump and his enablers will manufacture conspiracy theories and lie from now until the end. We know they are, the press knows they are and, and this is the sad part, it has a reasonable chance of succeeding. Something wrong w/system."

Indeed, there's no mystery about what's going on here. The hand Giuliani's playing in the Ukraine scandal is extremely weak, and everyone at the table knows it. He's practically waving his awful cards around in the air. And yet he's ushered into virtually every television news studio in the country, which is bad for news consumers. (On ABC's This Week, Giuliani claimed that George Soros and Hillary Clinton colluded with Ukraine’s government to try to steal the 2016 election … or something.)

"You can try to make things clear for viewers and inform the public. Or you can interview Giuliani. You cannot do both," noted New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. "Everyone in TV news knows this. And they choose. The confusion he spreads is strategic for him and a defeat for them, for it is impossible to resolve on air."

This is all part of the larger challenge that the Beltway press has been facing—and failing at—for the past two years: How do you deal with a president, an administration, and a Republican Party that now lie about everything? They don't spin. Instead, they lie without pause and without apology. Up until the moment Trump appeared on the political scene in the summer of 2015, the press' response to wholesale lying from politicians was obvious and straightforward: The lies got called out, without fear or favor. But for Trump, the press decided to pull its punches.

Nervous about allegations of "liberal media bias" and afraid of being the target of Trump's media-hating wrath, journalists pretend they can't tell if Trump is lying. And then when he obviously is, the press flips through the thesaurus in hopes of not having to call Trump's lies "lies." (So many "falsehoods" … ) Time and again, reporters and their editors, opting for clunky euphemisms, have failed to summon the nerve required to accurately label Trump’s lies as what they are.

And that leads us to the Giuliani dilemma. To borrow the famous Mary McCarthy quote, everything Giuliani says is a lie, including "and" and "the." There's simply no standard for truth in journalism that Giuliani meets.

Keep in mind, Giuliani made his fact-free Sunday television appearances regarding Biden and Ukraine the same day that the Los Angeles Times became the latest news organization to torpedo the corruption claims against Biden. "Ukraine’s former top law enforcement official says he repeatedly rebuffed President Trump’s personal lawyer’s demands to investigate Joe Biden and his son, insisting he had seen no evidence of wrongdoing that he could pursue despite Trump’s allegations," the paper reported.

Think about it. Why are news organizations that have already thoroughly debunked the Biden/Ukraine smear hosting Republicans like Giuliani and letting them disseminate the Biden/Ukraine smear? Do you think back in 2001 and 2002, if some Democratic members of Congress had pushed the outrageous conspiracy theory that President George W. Bush had known about the 9/11 terror attacks ahead of time and had refused to stop them, that those members would be ushered onto Meet the Press and Face the Nation? Me neither.

It's time for the press to fix its Rudy problem.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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Confused Fox News not sure how to spin Trump's admitted Ukraine collusion

Fox News has never cared about having a coherent and consistent message. As a propaganda and disinformation network, it's not Fox News' job to make sense: It's Fox News' job, these days, to cover for Donald Trump. Yet in the wake of the unfolding Ukraine collusion scandal, where Trump has admitted to pressuring a foreign country to dig up dirt on his domestic rival, Fox News and the conservative media seem particularly lost and scatterbrained as they search for a Trump defense. And yes, it's difficult to land on a defense strategy when Trump himself has admitted to the attempted Ukraine collusion.

So far, most Republican members of Congress seem intent on dodging questions about Ukraine, or playing dumb, rather than presenting a stalwart defense of Trump's behavior. The lack of coherent media spin from Fox and Republicans could prove significant if it's the Ukraine scandal that eventually prompts full-on impeachment proceedings against Trump in the House. After all, threatening to withhold $400 million in Ukrainian aid in exchange for launching an investigation into a Democratic political opponent represents an obvious abuse of power.

Moving forward on Ukraine, there's no question that Fox News will try to hype Trump's phony claims about Joe Biden and his son's business dealings in the country. "Who's in more trouble here, the president who had this phone call with the Ukrainian leader, or Joe Biden, who actually did have a quid pro quo with regard to Ukraine when he was vice president?" Fox host Davis Asman recently asked, making sure to present Biden and Trump as both being in Ukraine-related trouble. The claims against Biden though, have already been thoroughly debunked. Again, that won't stop Fox News from pushing them, but it seems less likely that they'll be able to give the charges a major lift-off.

Meanwhile, initial attempts to discredit the whistleblower who raised concerns about Trump's Ukraine collusion have also fallen flat, in part because Trump has undercut Fox News' spin. Early on in the story, as Media Matters noted, Fox News contributor Geraldo Rivera called the whistleblower a “deep state” punk who’s “snitching out the president's phone calls to a foreign leader.” Fox host Jesse Watters denounced the whistleblower as a “snake,” while Sean Hannity suggested the person committed a “crime” and spied on the president. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy dismissed the whistleblower complaint by claiming, "It's almost as if they'd heard a rumor." But again, that ship seems to have sailed because Trump has admitted to what the whistleblower is claiming. What's the long-term upside of attacking Trump's accuser, when Trump has essentially conceded that the accuser's claim is accurate?

Indeed, Trump appeared to pull the rug out from under Fox News as the scandal first developed. Initially, the network rushed to try and downplay the whistleblower reports, suggesting the complaint was sour grapes and merely over "policy." "Maybe this whistleblower just disagrees that he won the election," stressed Brian Kilmeade. "And number two, the way he's conducting foreign policy."

But Trump soon torpedoed that spin by confirming the whistleblower's allegations about using the threat of withholding financial aid for the country in exchange for cooperation with a Biden investigation.

On Tuesday morning, Fox News' Doocy seemed to express frustration with how Trump was handling the Ukraine story. "If the president said 'I will give you the money but you've got to investigate Joe Biden,' that is really off-the-rails wrong. But if it's something else, you know, it would be nice to know what it is."

In other words, Fox News to Trump: Please tell us how to spin this mess.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.

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How the press keeps helping Trump spread his crooked Ukraine conspiracy

Tapped to handle damage control on the stunning revelation that Donald Trump aggressively tried to pressure a foreign country to dig up dirt on his possible 2020 Democratic opponent, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo engaged in reckless bouts of misinformation during appearances on Sunday morning shows yesterday—and the hosts did nothing to stop him. In the process, those hosts joined a growing group of journalists who are leaning on “both sides” and false-equivalence journalism in order to both help Trump smear Democrat Joe Biden and to make it seem as if both men are under a cloud of Ukraine suspicion. (Only one of them is.)

"What's Going on With Trump and Biden and Ukraine," proclaimed a Sunday CNN headline, immediately presenting Trump's possibly treasonous behavior as equivalent to the bogus allegations Biden faces. The New York Times, which got caught last May peddling the anti-Biden storyline, presented a similar framing with its recent headline "Trump, Biden and a Whistle-Blower Complaint: Here Are the Basics." Somehow the Times doubled down with an even worse, more White House-friendly headline on Sunday night: "Biden's Work in Ukraine: What We Know and Don't Know."

Do you see the problem with that? By tying the two events together, the press is doing the White House a huge favor, suggesting that both Trump and Biden are being sullied in the process. But Biden is the victim of a GOP smear campaign, while Trump was caught trying to collude with a foreign government to dig up dirt on a Democratic rival.

Oh, and that Times article that described the "basics" of the controversy? The paper waited until the final two paragraphs to include this nugget: "There is no evidence that Mr. Biden" did anything that Trump and Republicans are accusing him of doing with regard to his son Hunter and his business dealings in Ukraine. My question is, why was that critical information not at the top of the story? Indeed, here's a key phrase, the likes of which didn't appear in any of the news coverage that I saw on the manufactured Ukraine conspiracy: A number of news organizations have already debunked the allegation.

News consumers might be confused to learn that the Ukraine claims against Biden were actually first aired months ago, and that several news outlets aggressively debunked the story. We're currently in the surreal position where reporters from news outlets that previously debunked the Ukraine claims are now pressing Biden to explain and defend the Ukraine claims.

Because Trump has once again raised the hollow claims against Biden, journalists who know the allegations were gutted months ago feel the need to suddenly treat them as newsworthy. That's utterly ridiculous. Journalists, quite obviously, should trust the news outlets that debunked the Ukraine claims instead of privileging Trump's lies by treating them as legitimate, and constantly repeating the hollow outlines of his attacks on Democrats.

The Biden campaign over the weekend issued a statement regarding the news coverage, and it's completely correct: "Any article, segment, analysis and commentary that does not demonstrably state at the outset that there is no factual basis for Trump’s claims, and in fact that they are wholly discredited, is misleading readers and viewers."

Did I mention that the Times teamed up with Republicans last May and tried to turn their Ukraine conspiracy into a thing? Worse, the Times once again helped peddle a dopey conspiracy theory promoted by conservative author Peter Schweizer, who in 2015 wrote the wildly dishonest Clinton Cash, a book the Times helped hype and promote. Back then, Schweizer concocted a wild tale that Clinton, as secretary of state, sold America's uranium supply to the highest bidder. She did not.

The right-wing media feasted on the Times' handiwork last May, and presented it as confirmation that Biden is corrupt. “NYT Confirms Hunter Biden Was Paid by Ukrainians While Father Was VP," blared a Breitbart headline, while Schweizer was quickly ushered onto Fox News to hype the Times report and spread more bogus claims about Biden. Problem was, days after the Times' May hit piece on Biden was published, a Bloomberg report that included more details about the Ukrainian timeline demolished the smear campaign.

Four months have passed since the Ukraine story got buried. With no new information, just more Trump lies and misdirection, there's no reason that the press should be digging it up now.

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By letting Trump constantly lie about 9/11, the press proves it will let him lie about anything

Sometimes it feels like the press has just completely surrendered to Donald Trump's relentless lies, and that reporters have essentially thrown up their hands, signaling that Trump has complete permission to fabricate whatever wild fantasies he wants and journalists won't really do much. Perhaps it's one part laziness, one part exhaustion? But watching what unfolded on Sept. 11, last week really highlighted just how detached from reality Trump is, and how little the press seems to care.

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Why Trump's new press secretary is actually more dangerous than Sarah Sanders

Add it to the list of long-standing norms that the Trump White House has shredded: Press secretary Stephanie Grisham has aggressively positioned herself not as an administration conduit for the press corps, but as an open and hostile enemy of newsgathering, in a way that even surpasses Sarah Huckabee Sanders' dangerous tenure in the position. And Grisham's doing it while collecting a weekly paycheck from the government, an outrageous use of public funding.

Politico last week reported that Grisham "flashed signs this week of how she'll serve as Donald Trump's defender-in-chief," and that her attacks on the press "represent a departure from her predecessors' approach to the role of press secretary." But that weak description doesn’t go far enough in terms of communicating the radical transformation of the White House press secretary role that's currently underway.

"Defender-in-chief" sounds like a good thing, right? Every president should have his or her stalwart defenders. But that's not at all what's unfolding. What's unfolding is a drastic escalation of Trump's obsessive and dangerous attacks on the press. Grisham's not simply defending Trump; she's trying to undermine newsgathering, and she's doing it in a patently dishonest and vengeful way. That means there's zero good-faith discussion to be had from the Trump White House about its press coverage.

That was obvious when Grisham co-wrote a poorly reasoned editorial in the Washington Examiner attacking The Washington Post's coverage of Trump. Its main thrust was that the Post constantly failed to report on all the good things Trump had done this summer. Yet in her piece, Grisham actually linked to Post articles about topics she claimed the Post wasn't covering.

The following day she lashed out on Twitter, once again complaining that the Post hadn't covered key news initiatives that the White House was proud of. And once again she was proven wrong when journalists linked to the Post's coverage of the supposedly ignored initiatives. So she's clearly not a serious person, and she's been recruited to be part of Trump's deeply unserious and dangerous crusade against the press.

Over the summer, Grisham authored a 20-page report arguing that White House reporter Brian Karem should have his credentials suspended. She argued that Karem had violated White House rules by being disruptive at a July 11 Rose Garden event, an event at which former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka loudly called Karem a "punk." In her report, Grisham claimed that a Secret Service agent had to intervene because the spat became so ugly. But it turned out there was no record of a Secret Service agent who ever got involved. The reporter filed suit to get his credentials reinstated; Grisham and the White House lost the Karem case in court.

Over time, we've seen a slow, steady deterioration in Trump’s press secretaries. Initially, Sean Spicer tried to function as a traditional press secretary within the confines of Trump's irrational ways, meaning that Spicer at least went through the motions of holding semi-regular press briefings. Sanders then segued into something much more destructive, by openly and quite often lying to reporters, proudly carrying Trump's "fake news" banner, and essentially canceling the press briefings.

And now Grisham completes the reckless transformation of the White House press secretary from a top official whose job it is to interact with the press in a professional and honest way to someone who's out to destroy the trust and confidence in the free press in this country. It's now been six months since the last press briefing. And it's actually worse than that: There's been just one press briefing since Jan. 28, and just two in the past 10 months.

Do you recall that White House reporters shamefully arranged to have drinks with Sanders as part of a fond farewell party? They lifted their glasses to a press secretary who hadn't held a White House press briefing in 100 days, and who lied to them. Please tell me that, one day, the White House press corps won't throw Grisham a going-away party, too.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.

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Fox News and conservative media are now warning of bloodshed if Democrats win in 2020

That's one way to try halt public debate in this country: by threatening mass violence and a bloody people's revolt in the streets. That's what conservative media voices, including those on Fox News, have done in recent days. Specifically, the reckless rhetoric has revolved around proposed new gun laws in the wake of America's latest string of mass shootings. Those are laws that would likely only be enacted if Democrats won the Senate and the White House in 2020.

The latest round of chilling right-wing media chatter of pending violence was prompted by comments made by Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke, who is advocating a mandatory buyback program to rid the country of assault weapons. "Americans who own AR-15s and AK-47s will have to sell them to the government," O'Rourke proposed. Context: Those are the type of weapons that were banned in the United States following the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill under President Bill Clinton. (The guns were reinstated when President George W. Bush allowed the ban to expire.)

That debate about eliminating assault weapons from our streets then set off a rash of warnings about pending bloodshed. Washington Examiner executive editor Seth Mandel defended statements McCain and Carlson made, tweeting that “it’s not justifying or threatening an insurrection to predict” that a mandatory gun buyback program “is likely to go badly.” Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter asked, “How many deaths” is O'Rourke "willing to accept to achieve disarming the citizenry?" Appearing on Fox News, professional wrestler Tyrus was invited to pontificate about guns: "If my military has it, if my government has it, and we get into a situation with all this division and supposed one-side will take over. I don't want to be in the Venezuela situation, to where I can't form a militia and protect myself." And right-wing radio show host Erick Erickson warned that friends of his who keep AR-15s buried in the ground will likely resort to violence against the government.

The sinister, desperate threats of bloodshed come as the public opinion pendulum continues to swing away from the NRA and its radical gun defenders. Last Thursday alone saw three enormous retail chains, CVS, Walgreens, and Wegmans, alter their store policies to discourage customers from carrying guns. Those announcements came in the wake of the big news that Walmart, America's largest retail chain, stated it would stop selling ammunition used for handguns and military-style weapons, completely end the sale of handguns, and discourage anyone from carrying weapons in its stores.

Many major retailers that previously refused to take a stand on the issue of guns in their stores are now stepping up, and this highlights the momentum on the side of gun safety advocates. The tide is turning in this country, so radical holdouts at Fox News turn to threats of violence.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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Confirmed: Trump lies to reporters more often than he lies to any other group

Press advocates scored an important legal victory this week when a U.S. District Court judge ordered the White House to reinstate media credentials to reporter Brian Karem, whose access had been stripped away by Donald Trump's team after a dust-up during a Rose Garden ceremony in July. There, former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka called Karem a "punk." Announcing that the White House hadn't provided Karem with due process when it stripped him of his credentials, the ruling marked the second time the White House has tried and failed to give a reporter the boot. (CNN's Jim Acosta was the previous target.)

Tracking every lie (aka "falsehood") that Trump told between July 8 and Aug. 18, CNN concluded that he averaged nearly eight fabrications every day. The biggest whoppers during that period were that China is paying for the trade war tariffs (they're not), which Trump repeated 10 times, and that Democrats want to eliminate all immigration laws concerning America's borders (they don't), which Trump claimed 14 different times.

What was especially telling from the CNN research was the forum where Trump told the most lies during that six-week stretch. "The top venue, with 94 false claims, was his exchanges with reporters," CNN reported. The venue that featured the second-highest number of Trump lies was the political rallies that he holds.

Why so many lies told directly to the faces of reporters? Because Trump in recent weeks has spent lots of time talking to journalists, hosting various Chopper Talk sessions that ranged from 17 minutes to 33 minutes in duration. And when Trump talks a lot, he lies a lot—period. "There is a strong correlation between how much Trump talks and how many false claims he makes," CNN noted diplomatically.

CNN's findings confirm recently released research that showed Trump much prefers granting reporters “access” while questions are yelled in a chaotic setting. According to the data compiled by Martha Joynt Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project at Towson University, the shouting sessions make up 60% of Trump's interactions with reporters, compared to just 17% of Barack Obama's. To date, Trump has stopped more than 80 times for Q&A shout sessions while departing from or returning to the White House aboard Marine One, or on the tarmac before getting on or off Air Force One.

The White House has pointed to these shout sessions as proof that Trump's delivering all kinds of access. Press secretary Stephanie Grisham recently bragged that Trump is “so accessible” that she doesn’t “know what any of the press could complain about." It turns out what they could complain about is Trump using access he grants to the press to lie to them nonstop.

The CNN confirmation of Trump lying most often to reporters arrived the same week he unveiled perhaps the most ridiculous and moronic lie of his presidency—or least of the past month. That's when Trump’s White House took a Sharpie marker to an official government map of the projected course of Hurricane Dorian, and enlarged the path's possible cone to include Alabama. It was a pathetic and childish attempt to bolster his earlier, reckless assertion that Alabama was ever in danger from the storm, a claim that the National Weather Service aggressively debunked.

Trump lies about everything. Always. And that’s especially true when he grants access to reporters.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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'It is a f**king circus': Trump is running a media access con game — and winning

The White House is perpetrating a scam on the Beltway press corps, bragging about how much access Donald Trump gives reporters. The whole thing is a ruse, though, and unfortunately, it's another example of how key institutions of American journalism are lying down in the face of Trump’s bullying, not even mustering a fight on behalf of transparency or in the name of maintaining their watchdog status for voters.

"From a practical standpoint, the question-and-answer sessions represent something of a free-for-all where President Trump is the ringmaster," noted Kumar in her findings. "While other presidents have held these sessions, they have done so more as a way of responding to reporters between the more formal press conferences than as a substitute for them."

The sessions "are terrible for reporters," one White House reporter recently conceded to Politico. "It is impossible to hear, have a substantive dialogue, ask a follow-up question or do any serious pressing of the president. It is a fucking circus." And that's exactly how Trump likes it. He grants "access" to the media completely on his terms, and often uses the sessions to bash reporters.

And because the sessions are strangely covered as breaking news, the Trump lies are instantly boosted by the press, without providing proper context for them. Media Matters found that "the press is particularly vulnerable to Trump’s gaggle falsehoods, often amplifying his inaccurate claims without correction in cable news chyrons and social media postings." In fact, "roughly a third of the chyrons the networks appended to those gaggles referenced a false or misleading Trump statement -- and ... 95% of those chyrons did not dispute his misinformation," Media Matters' Matt Gertz noted.

This accelerated strategy to choke off press briefings is part of a historic, incremental effort by the Trump administration to lock out the press—and, by extension, the public—from the government’s official duties and business.

Of course, the backdrop for all the phony access talk from the White House is the fact that the Trump team has eliminated daily briefings for the press corps, thereby unplugging the daily give-and-take reporters for decades had enjoyed with the White House press secretary. It was during those sessions, which had been televised for past 20 years, that journalists were allowed to pry at length into administration policy. But all of that evaporated under Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and news outlets never put up a fight.

Rather than take a definitive, collective stand and demand access and accountability, news organizations opted for tentativeness, which allowed the White House to erase the briefings in slow motion—to make their absence the new normal. At this point, the fact that the briefings no longer really exist doesn't matter much, since they have been completely useless for a very long time.

Sanders' no-shows at press briefings became such a problem that White House reporters were forced to dash out onto the grounds when they found out she was  giving a live, friendly interview to Fox News on the White House lawn. That was the only way they were able to ask Sanders questions on camera. Now, rather than being humiliated while effectively chasing the press secretary across the grounds, reporters are instead demeaned during Trump’s outdoor shoutfests.

By the way, all of this was telegraphed at the outset of the administration. "Routine media access to the White House could be a thing of the past under Donald Trump’s presidency," PBS reported in January 2017. And that's exactly what happened. Yet, more than two years later, the largest news outlets in this country appear flat-footed and unsure of how to respond to the unprecedented Trump White House campaign to choke off all meaningful access.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

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Do White House reporters have any idea what's happening inside Trump's White House? Not according to this media expert

Donald Trump's new White House press secretary hasn't given a single press briefing since she was appointed in June, and the odds are she never will. No briefing has been held there in more than 150 days, as Trump moves to drastically cut off the fourth estate’s access. It's just another example of how reporters are being denied a chance to keep watch over Trump and his team.

In June, Ivanka Trump shocked observers, including reporters, when she not only accompanied her father to South Korea, but was also given an elevated role, delivering news interviews, posing for photos, and meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Reporters had no idea she'd be playing such a prominent role, and were given almost no explanation for her role as U.S. pseudo-diplomat.

To be fair, journalists aren't alone in terms of often being completely in the dark about what's happening inside the Trump White House; so, too, are senior administration deputies. We saw a clear glimpse of that last month when Department of Justice officials were caught completely unawares after Trump used his Twitter account to announce a stunning reversal in the court case over the administration's attempt to include a question about citizenship on next year's U.S. census survey. One day after the DOJ informed a federal judge that the government would not try to add to the 2020 census the citizenship question the Supreme Court had blocked, Trump tweeted out, “We are absolutely moving forward” on the citizenship question. “The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the president’s position on this issue," the DOJ lawyer handling the case told an irritated U.S. District Court judge. "As you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what’s going on."

Reporters, like administration attorneys, had no idea about Trump's pending policy reversal. And we've seen that over and over, with the news media caught flatfooted regarding major policy pronouncements in a way that would have been unheard-of in previous administrations.

Increasingly, even those connected to the Trump White House concede that the place is a shell of its former self. Asked about Trump's awful decision to retweet a murderous conspiracy theory about the Clintons, one anonymous aide told Axios, "I think we're beyond the point of trying to control these things."

Why is the White press corps so reluctant to admit what's happening? Pretending there's a well-oiled Trump White House machine, and that he's surrounded by advisers who are deeply engaged with him in policy decision-making, is another way the media helps normalize the chaos that's been unfolding at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the last two years. And, let's face it, constantly reporting that Trump watches Fox News, which basically dictates most of his policy actions as president, doesn't sound like an enticing story for D.C. press insiders to tell.

Instead, there's collective tiptoeing around the obvious, which means we get lots of reports about anonymous "advisers" who are supposedly filling in the blanks of the Trump presidency. But increasingly, it all feels like a charade. And it's a charade the press is happy to perpetuate, in part because the truth makes it look bad. It doesn't want to publicly acknowledge how severely journalists have been cut out of the Trump administration loop, that so many traditional sources of information have completely dried up. Recently, I looked at several "White House Memo" installments in The New York Times, which are supposed to be snapshots from inside Trump's inner circle. But none of the articles actually included any quotes from people who work inside the White House.

Having long prided themselves on being plugged in and able to dig up all kinds of closely held information, White House journalists under Trump are now often stuck in the role of bystanders.

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'Congress' isn't blocking new gun laws — the GOP is

Obstructionist Republicans have been blocking common-sense gun laws for years, even as the laundry list of gun massacres continues to grow. The radical maneuver comes against overwhelming public support for Democrat-backed legislation. If ever there's been an example of an entire political party in America completely out of step with the country, this is it. So why does the press constantly inform news consumers that "Congress" is to blame for the lack of action, instead of Republicans?

Note that this press charade has been going on for many years. Following the 2012 gun massacre at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, President Barack Obama put the full weight of the White House behind trying to pass a background check bill. Despite the mass murder of children and teachers, Obama couldn’t get most Republican senators to budge. “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it,” explained Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, who was one of just four Republicans who voted for the compromise bill. In the end, the gun bill's failure didn't spark much anger in the press.

What it did produce was endless commentary about how the gun vote was nearly entirely Obama's fault—how he didn't know how to use the levers of power inside Washington and remained hopelessly incapable of working across the aisle with honest brokers in the GOP. In the end, the background check failure was portrayed as a process story, and a process story that featured Obama as the big loser. Nine out of 10 Republican senators refused to support a bill that nine out of 10 Americans supported, but that was Obama'a fault?

Meanwhile today, the press seems overly anxious to portray Republicans as responding to criticism and standing poised to spring into action to help curb gun violence. "Republicans who have long resisted gun restrictions appear rattled," the New York Times stressed in a report that could identify a grand total of five Republican elected officials who seemed to suggest they were willing to supporting a relatively minor new gun safety law, a so-called "red-flag" bill which would give law enforcement the power to take away guns from people deemed to be dangerous by a judge.

Indeed, the narrative that Republicans "appear rattled" and will soon act decisively represents more fantasy than reality, and journalists ought to understand that over the last decade there is literally no common-sense gun legislation that Republicans, at the behest of the NRA, are willing to support. And that the minimal chatter this week among a very small handful of Republicans absolutely does not reflect the institutional strategy of the GOP regarding guns.

We just went through this GOP charade following the Parkland Florida, school gun massacre where 17 students and faculty members were murdered. Back then some Republicans, led by Donald Trump, initially and tentatively mouthed words of encouragement regarding gun safety laws, only to the have most bills completely shut down by the GOP-controlled Senate, after Trump met privately with NRA officials. Against that recent backdrop reporters are actually going to take seriously passive comments from Republicans about enacting new laws? The whole thing seems like a cruel Charlie Brown/Lucy exercise.

Yet a CNBC report this week simply typed up Trump's quote about supporting a background check bill without including any context regarding how last year he publicly supported the same initiative, only to recant everything.

Other crucial context that's often missing from news reports is just how staggeringly large and sweeping public support is in favor of news guns laws. "Most Americans support such efforts, polls show," noted the New York Times, massively downplaying the nearly universal support for background check bills sponsored by Democrats. It's virtually impossible to find a single public policy issue in this country that's as widely supported as gun reform, including background checks.

But that crucial fact often gets glossed over, as the press blames "Congress" for failing to act, instead of radical obstructionist Republicans.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.

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