2020: Will the mainstream media make a difference?

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There’s a lot of tortured handwringing going on among the mainstream media about how they covered the 2016 presidential race and what they need to do to fix things for 2020.

“…we have a chance to do things differently than we did the last time around – to redeem ourselves,” columnist Frank Bruni opined in The New York Times on Jan. 13, 2018. “Our success or failure will affect our stature at a time of rickety public trust in us.”

Bruni’s column focused on the role of the “mainstream, establishment media” and its responsibility to clean up its act, to avoid writing about the spectacle and cover, instead, substance, fitness for office and competing visions of government.

Sounds all very serious and high-minded. But Bruni’s angst is too late.

The fact is, what the mainstream, establishment print and television media have to say about politics simply doesn’t matter as much anymore because people are going elsewhere to find out what’s going on and what people think about it.

“The conversation that should concern everyone, in both media and politics, is not about what gets covered,” Peter Hamby recently wrote in Vanity Fair.  “It’s about what gets attention.”

“At a time when technology is transforming voter behavior at unprecedented speed, this is a problem that the mainstream media, even on its best behavior, cannot possibly solve without a drastic reimagining of what journalism is and how it reaches contemporary audiences.”

Diminishing influence

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In 1950, almost every American household read a daily newspaper

In 1950, almost every American household read a daily newspaper. By 2000, only 50 percent of Americans read a printed newspaper on a daily basis.

As I write this in Jan. 2019, I’m sitting at a large, bustling coffee shop. A couple dozen people of all ages are busily engaged at their laptops. Not a single person is reading a newspaper.

The fact is fewer Americans read a daily newspaper today than in 1950, while the U.S. population has more than doubled. And the prognosis isn’t good. With just 2 percent of teenagers reading a newspaper on a regular basis, few are developing a newspaper reading habit.

Unlike the individualized, algorithm-determined, constantly updated news delivered to consumers online, print newspapers offer identical mass communications to their customers. And by the time the news in print newspapers reaches the intended audience, not only is it stale, but it has been superceded by newer news.

During the 2016 election, a survey of U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center revealed  that print versions of both local and national newspapers were named as key sources for election news and information by only 3% and 2% of respondents respectively. Late night comedy shows did just as well as sources at 3%.  (Maybe that explains why Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced she was forming a presidential exploratory committee during a Jan. 15 appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”)

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And even if you did read print newspapers during the election, policy issues — what the nominees would do if elected—got little press coverage in print outlets. In the 2016 general election, policy issues accounted for just 10 percent of the news coverage—less than a fourth the space given to the horserace between the candidates, according to a Shorenstein Center study.

And even if you did read print newspapers during the election, policy issues — what the nominees would do if elected—got little press coverage in print outlets. In the 2016 general election, policy issues accounted for just 10 percent of the news coverage—less than a fourth the space given to the horserace between the candidates, according to a Shorenstein Center study.

All this has translated into a drastic reduction in the influence of newspaper editorial endorsements.

“Once upon a time, a newspaper endorsement for a political candidate was about as good as it got,” Philip Bump wrote in the Washington Post  a couple weeks before the 2016 election. “In the era before the internet…big, important newspapers could shift the fortunes of people seeking the presidency. Nowadays, that’s … less of the case.”

Of the 269 U.S. newspapers that dispensed their wisdom by endorsing a presidential candidate in 2016, 240 endorsed Hillary Clinton and just 18 endorsed Donald Trump. Libertarian Gary Johnson secured nine endorsements and independent conservative Evan McMullin got one.

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Of the top 100 largest newspapers in America with the largest circulations, just two endorsed Trump,

As Politico media reporter Hadas Gold tweeted when Trump’s stunning victory became clear, “… newspaper endorsements DO NOT MATTER.”

That may be partly due to slipping public respect for the mainstream media.  In a Pew Research Center survey taken shortly after the November 2016 balloting, only one in five respondents gave the press a grade of “B” or higher for its performance. Four of five graded its performance as a “C” or lower, with half of them giving it an “F.”

Declining newspaper circulation

Much of the waning influence of print newspapers can also be attributed to circulation declines (or the reverse).

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In 1960, nearly 120 percent of households bought a daily newspaper (i.e. there were 1.2 papers sold per household). By 2017, fewer than 30 percent of households bought a daily newspaper.

In 1990, circulation of U.S. daily newspapers totaled 62.3 million weekday and 62.6 million Sunday. By 2009, circulation had sunk to 55.8 million daily and 59.4 million Sunday.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, despite the excitement and turmoil of the national elections, weekday and Sunday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers – both print and digital – fell 8%, marking the 28th consecutive year of declines. Weekday circulation fell to 35 million and Sunday circulation to 38 million – the lowest levels since 1945.

The following year, the first of Tump’s term, was equally discouraging. Estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2017 was 31 million for weekday and 34 million for Sunday, down 11% and 10%, respectively, from 2016.

Some of that decline is because the United States has lost almost 1,800 papers since 2004, including more than 60 dailies and 1,700 weeklies, leaving 7,112 in the country, according to The School of Media and Journalism at UNC.

California lost the most dailies of any state. In one case, the 140-year-old, 500-circulation Gridley Herald used to serve Gridley (population 6,000) in the central California county of Butte, 60 miles from Sacramento. On Aug. 29, 2018, the paper’s staff and the community were notified by the paper’s owner, GateHouse Media, that the final issue of the twice-weekly paper would be published the next day.

Daily newspaper circulation in California totaled about 5.7 million 15 years ago. In 2018, that was cut in half to 2.8 million.

If print circulation continues to drop at current rates, as many as one-half of the nation’s surviving dailies will no longer be in print by 2021, predicts Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University..

One of the most striking examples of decline is in Silicon Valley. The San Jose Mercury News, rebranded as The Mercury News in 2016, was once an influential publication with about 400 reporters, editors, photographers, and artists.

According to The Columbia Journalism Review, the Mercury News was one of the first daily newspapers in the U.S. with an online presence, the first to put all its content on that site, the first to use the site to break news, and one of the first to migrate its growing online content to the web.

Its commitment to innovation and hard news led to daily circulation of 200,258 in 2009 making it the fifth largest daily newspaper in the United States.

But subsequent years of bad business decisions, declining classified advertising (including job listings), layoffs, McClatchy’s purchase of the paper’s owner, Knight Ridder, in 2006, and the subsequent sale of the Mercury News to the MediaNews Group caused the paper to slip. “…sadly the San Jose Merc is a mere shadow of its former self,” commented one online reviewer.

Not that long ago, the San Jose paper proclaimed itself “The Newspaper of Silicon Valley,” media business analyst Ken Doctor wrote in Newsonomics. “Silicon Valley has done quite well, becoming the global economic engine and driving great regional affluence. But the economically fecund region has become — in less than a decade — a news desert.”

Here at home, The Oregonian, a paper with a long and storied history, is a story of decline, too.

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The Oregonian Building, at the corner at the intersection of S.W. Sixth and Alder, occupied by the paper during 1892-1948.

In 1950, when Advance Publications bought the paper, its daily circulation was 214,916. For quite a while, things looked promising.

I joined The Oregonian as a business and politics reporter in 1987. It was a robust, well-respected paper, with a proud past and a much-anticipated future. Daily circulation was 319,624; Sunday circulation 375,914.

When I left the paper 10 years later in 1997 to take a corporate communications job, daily circulation was 360,000, Sunday circulation 450,000. It looked like the paper was on a roll.

But good times were not ahead. By 2012, daily circulation had sunk to 228,599, only slightly higher than in 1950. In subsequent years, daily circulation continued to slump, despite robust population growth in the Portland Metro Area.

Meanwhile, talented reporters have fled in droves, some pushed out, others motivated by buy-outs. At the same time the once powerful paper’s clout has diminished as it has abandoned rural Oregon and 7-day-a-week print distribution.

By 2018, The Oregonian had a print circulation of just 158,000 and distributed  to 15 fewer counties in Oregon and Washington than it did in 2004, when it had a circulation of 338,000, according to a UNC report on The Expanding News Desert.

A few smaller local Oregon papers are thriving, but most are suffering, too. And all of them have a tough time covering state and national politics consistently and with any depth.

Oregon Public Broadcasting OPB recently reported that Western Communications, which owns seven newspapers across the West, including the Bulletin in Bend, the Baker City Herald and the La Grande Observer, “is on the brink of foreclosure.” The company hasn’t paid nearly $1 million owed in local property taxes and interest and is between three and five years behind on taxes in counties across Oregon, OPB reported.

Comprehensive political coverage by the Eugene Register Guard is threatened, too. On March 1, 2018, GateHouse Media, the same company that closed the Gridley Herald, acquired the Register Guard, which had survived more than 90 years of independent, family ownership.

GateHouse publishes 130 daily newspapers. It has a reputation for tightfisted financial management accompanied by staff layoffs. It’s impact on the Register Guard has fit that pattern. In Dec. 2017, before the GateHouse takeover, the editorial and news staff at The Register-Guard totaled 42, according to the paper’s staff directory. Today the directory lists 27, of which just 12 are identified as reporters..

Not only has the Register Guard staff shrunk; so has its daily circulation, dropping from 54,325 in 2011 to 41,280 today.

“What’s happening with the Guard isn’t unique to the Guard,” Tim Gleason,professor and former dean at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, told the Eugene Weekly. “It’s what’s happening all over the country as these venture capital firms buy newspapers and then largely gut them.”

Of course, newspapers are being gutted whether or not they are investment targets.

In early January 2019, the Dallas Morning News eliminated 43 jobs, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, half of them in the newsroom, with the cuts  hitting reporters covering immigration, transportation, the environment, and the courts.

On Friday, February 1, The McClatchy Company, which owns properties such as the Miami Herald and the Kansas City Star, emailed staffers to announce that 450 employees would be offered voluntary buyouts as part of a “functional realignment,” essentially signaling that the jobs have been marked out of the budget. The news was first reported by the Miami New Times.

If print newspaper circulation across the board continues to drop at current rates, as many as one-half of the nation’s surviving dailies will no longer be in print by 2021, predicts Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard.

None of this is good news if you want an educated, informed public in a position to make wise judgments about public policy.

“The way to prevent irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs through the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1787.

That is as true today.

How about network television news?

Given the decline of local print media, local network TV news is one of the few remaining sources of locally-focused journalism covering political issues, but local TV news has been experiencing declines as well.

Just from 2016 to 2017, the portion of Americans who often rely on local TV for their news fell 9 percentage points, from 46% to 37%, according to the Pew Research Center. Still, local tv news shows have multiple opportunities to cover educate their audience. The problem is that covering public policy is rarely their forte and it’s not what their audience is seeking.

Instead, local TV news is the outlet of choice by adults for weather, breaking news and traffic reports, although young adults are more likely to turn to the Internet, according to Pew Research.

Public policy and politics coverage is also suffering with a decline in the audiences for the national network news shows of NBC, ABC and CBS, although some scholars believe television news viewing has little effect on issue learning. In other words,  watching increasing quantities of television news will not lead to greater knowledge about political issues because of the paucity of real issue information. You may know more about polls and personalities, but not so much about political issues that affect your life.

Remember when the family used to gather in the living room every night for the evening news, either the Huntley-Brinkley Report, CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite or ABC Evening News with Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith? That was so long ago.

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All three network evening news shows have been losing audience steadily since then. By 1998, the three network evening newscasts reached a combined average of only about 30.4 million viewers in a country with a population of 276 million.

In 2016, even with a turbulent presidential campaign, the average viewership for the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts was 24 million, according to a Pew Research Center  analysis.

Compare that to the ratings of a single showing of 2016’s number one primetime TV show, The Big Bang Theory, which averaged 19.9 million viewers, or with Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, 2016, which got 112.6 million average viewers, according to Nielsen.

By the 2017-18 television season, ABC’s evening news had an average of 8.6 million viewers, NBC Nightly News 8.15 million and CBS Evening News 6.2 million. That’s a total of 22.95 million.

 

lonesomerhodes

Lonesome Rhodes, a master manipulator.

In Elia Kazan’s classic movie “A Face in the Crowd,” Lonesome Rhodes, played brilliantly by Andy Griffiths, rises from an itinerant Ozark guitar picker to a local media rabble-rouser to TV superstar and a political power. “I’m not just an entertainer. I’m an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force… a force!”, he exclaimed at one point.

Newspaper publishers and TV news anchors may once have felt the same way, but their days are numbered.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the demand for news is going to collapse. It just means there’s going to be a need for more imagination in formatting and delivering it in ways that grab an audience and rewards them for their attention.

Vanity Fair’s Peter Hamby cited a twice-daily news show produced by NBC that runs on Snapchat. According to Digiday, the brief show, Stay Tuned, was created specifically for the vertical-screen mobile experience. In 2018, Stay Tuned averaged 25 – 35 million unique viewers per month on Snapchat, according to data provided to NBC News by Snap. Only one-third of that audience also watches, reads or listens to NBC News content on other platforms, so two-thirds are a new NBC audience.

To top it off, about 75 percent of the “Stay Tuned” audience is under 25 and 90 percent is under 34, according to Snapchat, a significant accomplishment given that reaching younger audiences has provers to be a challenge for traditional print and network TV.

So the future isn’t all grim. It will just be different.

 

 

 

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Trump’s seven words: Who you gonna believe?

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It’s not easy being right.

The Washington Post reported on Dec. 6 that, “The Trump administration has informed multiple divisions within the Department of Health and Human Services that they should avoid using certain words or phrases in official documents being drafted for next year’s budget.”

According to the Post, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were told seven words or phrases were prohibited in budget documents: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

I’ve no doubt the two reporters who wrote the Post’s story, Lena H. Sun and Juliet Eipperin, were roundly celebrated for the scoop by their colleagues in the newsroom. It’s also likely that the Post was pleased to see its story picked up by multiple other major and minor newspaper, television and social media outlets.

I thought it was fascinating, too, partly because it tied in with all the current discussion about the misuse of words and the 1984 parallels.

“We’re becoming Venezuela, where doctors are warned not to diagnose a patient as suffering from ‘malnutrition’, likely because it would highlight the widespread hunger in the country where, according to a horrific story in the New York Times, starving children are regularly brought to hospital emergency rooms,” I wrote in a post on my blog.

But was the Washington Post’s story true?

On Dec. 18, National Review, a conservative publication said emphatically, “No”.

In a story titled, “No, HHS Did Not ‘Ban Words’,” Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs, a quarterly journal of essays on domestic policy and politics, forcefully challenged the Post’s version of events.

Levin, after talking with some HHS officials, argued that the budget office at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent divisions of the department a style guide to use in their budget-proposal language and “congressional justification” documents for the coming year. That style guide set out some words to be avoided, Levin said, because they are frequently misused or regularly overused in departmental documents. “The style guide does not prohibit the use of these terms, but it says they should be used only when alternatives (which it proposes in some cases) cannot be,” Levin wrote.

Why avoid certain terms? “The common practice of substituting the term “vulnerable” for “poor”, for example, has a long history of annoying some Republicans on Capitol Hill, and presumably that accounts for the instruction to avoid it in congressional-justification documents,” Levin said. In other words, he said, it wasn’t that retrograde Republicans in the Trump administration ordered career CDC officials not to use these terms but that career CDC officials assumed retrograde Republicans would be triggered by such words and, in an effort to avoid having such Republicans cut their budgets, reasoned they might be best avoided.”

“If all of that is correct… it does make for an interesting story,” Levin said. “But it’s not nearly as interesting as the Washington Post made it seem, and it doesn’t point to quite the same lessons either. In fact, it probably tells us more about the attitudes and assumptions of the career officials in various HHS offices than about the political appointees of the administration they are now supposed to be working for.”

So, slightly modifying the Ghostbusters line, “Who you gonna believe?”

With all the attention being given to so-called “fake news,” it’s becoming harder to know what’s true and what’s not. Sure, there are carefully planted tweets and Facebook posts that are clearly false, items posted not to inform but to sway public opinion. But what about all the stories by so-called legitimate media sources that, when closely examined, seem to some to be more an effort to advance an ideological agenda

The Post and the New York Times, for example, have come under fire from critics arguing that they are increasingly functioning as public relations arms of the Democratic National Committee. Equally, Fox News is routinely accused of just the opposite.

“Since its 1996 launch, Fox has become a central hub of the conservative movement’s well-oiled media machine,” says FAIR, a group that criticizes media bias from a progressive viewpoint. “Together with the GOP organization and its satellite think tanks and advocacy groups, this network of fiercely partisan outlets—such as the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative talk-radio shows like Rush Limbaugh’s—forms a highly effective right-wing echo chamber.”

Perhaps we are just returning to the beginning.

The first newspaper produced in North America was Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick, published on September 25, 1690, by Boston printer Benjamin Harris. The colonial government objected to Harris’s negative tone regarding British rule and the newspaper was banned after one issue.

Subsequent newspapers printed during the colonial period were highly opinionated, generally arguing one political point of view or aggressively pushing the ideas of whatever party subsidized the paper.

Mitchell Stephens, a New York University journalism professor and the author of History of News, said the purpose of newspapers “changed to the political and polemical after 1765—around the time of the Stamp Act-as tensions snowballed.”

 

“As the century began, the fledgling colonial press tested its wings,” James Breig, a newspaper editor, wrote in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal. “A bolder journalism opened on the eve of the Revolution. And, as the century closed with the birth of the United States, a rancorously partisan and rambunctious press emerged.”

It looks like it’s back.

Harvey Weinstein’s not the only one spying on reporters

Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech. – Benjamin Franklin

 

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Harvey Weinstein had no qualms about spying on journalists to protect himself, or even using journalists to acquire information he could use against his accusers.

He used Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, who passed on information about Weinstein’s accusers gleaned by his reporters.

Then there was the freelance writer hired by Black Cube, a private intelligence agency, who passed on information about women with allegations against Weinstein.

Sounds creepy. But Weinstein’s not the only one spying on reporters and he’s not the only one trying to undermine and disparage journalists.

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Walmart just removed a t-shirt like the one above from its website, following a complaint from a journalist advocacy group.
The shirt was listed on Walmart’s website through a third-party seller, Teespring, which allows people to post their own designs for sale.

The Columbia Journalism Review just reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said criminal investigations into the sources of journalists are up 800 percent and he’s vowed to “revisit” the Justice Department’s media guidelines that restrict how the US government can conduct surveillance on reporters.

Then there’s Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon who sent two reporters to Alabama to dig up dirt on reporting done by the Washington Post about Alabama Republican Roy Moore. Breitbart’s goa, according to Axios, is to undermine the work of Post reporters Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard, and Alice Crites.

How about when the Koch brothers allegedly hired private investigators to dig into Jane Mayer’s past while she was working on her book, “Dark Money,” which accuses the Kochs and other wealthy plutocrats of hijacking American democracy.

At one point, Mayer heard that she was going to be accused of plagiarizing other writers. According to the New York Times, a dossier of her supposed plagiarism had been provided to The New York Post and The Daily Caller. The writers insisted there had been no plagiarism, causing the smear to collapse.

Three years later Mayer said she traced the plagiarism accusation to a firm involving several people who have worked closely with Koch business concerns. The firm was Vigilant Resources International, whose founder and chairman, Howard Safir, had been New York City’s police commissioner under former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

“Smearing Mayer is reflective of Safir’s contempt for reporters and the media in general when he was police commissioner,” said a Newsday reporter.

In June of this year the New York Post reported that the Trump administration was spying on journalists who have been handed leaked information.

The Post said the Justice Department has obtained a legal warrant from the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to conduct electronic surveillance on reporters who were known to have published articles based on leaked information.

The surveillance was reported to be part of the Trump administration’s attempts to clamp down on leaks from within the White House and government departments.

In some respects, there’s nothing new about all this.

In 2013, the Justice Department advised the Associated Press (AP) that Federal investigators had secretly seized two months of phone records for reporters and editors of the AP. The government had obtained the records for more than 20 telephone lines of its offices and journalists, including their home phones and cellphones.

Gary Pruitt, the president and chief executive of AP, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. calling the seizure, a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its news gathering activities.

There’s so much concern within the journalism community about government spying that the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and Freedom of the Press Foundation are teaming up to find out what’s going on.

On Nov. 29, they filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department and several intelligence agencies, demanding records revealing how the government collects information on journalists and targets them with surveillance.

Media Transparency: Who said that?

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Untrustworthy information isn’t just about fake news, the media’s topic du jour. There’s another equally insidious trend in today’s media.

It was highlighted in a recent New York Times  opinion piece contending that Facebook shouldn’t be expected to fact-check news posts.

“What those demanding that Facebook accept “responsibility” for becoming the dominant news aggregator of our time seem to be overlooking is that there’s a big difference between the editorial power that individual news organizations wield and that which Facebook could,” wrote a woman named Jessica Lessin, identified as the founder and chief executive of The Information, a technology news site. “Such editorial power in Facebook’s hands would be unprecedented and dangerous.”

Lessin noted in her piece that her husband worked at Facebook “for a brief period.” That’s it.

But the New York Times’ Public Editor, Liz Spayd, disclosed on Nov. 30 that, in fact, Lessin and her husband, Sam, have pretty damn close ties to Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive officer.

Not only have Sam Lessin and Zuckerberg been friends since they both attended Harvard, Spayd reported, but Sam introduced Zuckerberg to investors when he was starting Facebook. In addition, in 2010, Facebook acquired a file-sharing site, Drop.io, that Sam had founded and made Sam a Facebook vice president overseeing product. Zuckerberg was even a guest at the Lessing’s wedding.

Spayd ripped the Times for not disclosing to readers the Lessins’ ties to Facebook, particularly because Jessica Lessin had vigorously defended the company.

The problem is this is not the only case of the media’s failure to disclose relevant information on somebody expressing an opinion.

On Oct. 28, 2016, CBS News Tonight featured a comment by a Matthew Miller condemning FBI Director James Comey for reopening the Clinton email investigation. CBS noted only that Miller had been a spokesman for the Department of Justice.

That same day, Politico reported that Miller had gone on a 14-post spree on Twitter blasting Comey and said Comey’s letter to Congress announcing the review of more evidence in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server constituted “…an inappropriate disclosure.”

Politico also identified Miller only as “a former director of the Justice Department’s office of public affairs.”

Salon jumped on the bandwagon, too, citing a Miller tweet, “FBI is undoubtedly investigating links between the Russian hack, Manafort, & the Trump campaign”. Salon also identified Miller as “Former Department of Justice spokesman…”.

The next day, the Washington Post ran a lengthy opinion piece by Miller titled “James Comey fails to follow Justice Department rules yet again.” Miller blasted Comey, saying his action “…was yet another troubling violation of long-standing Justice Department rules or precedent, conduct that raises serious questions about his judgment and ability to serve as the nation’s chief investigative official.”

In this case, the opinion piece identified Miller only as director of the Justice Department’s public affairs office from 2009 to 2011.

In both cases, there was a glaring omission. For full transparency, CBS and the Washington Post should have pointed out that Miller was hardly an unbiased observer.

Not only has Miller served as communications director for the House Democratic Caucus, but he held the same position at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was elected Senate minority leader on Nov. 16, 2016, making him the highest ranking Democrat in the U.S.

Before working for Schumer, Miller was communications director for the successful 2006 Senate campaign of Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

Don’t you think it would be instructive to know all this before reading Matthew Miller’s opinions?

In other words, untrustworthy news isn’t just about fake news, the media’s topic du jour.

Readers shouldn’t have to research a writer’s background on their own, as I had to do to evaluate Matthew’s credibility, because of the media’s lack of candor. But too often, media cast aside their responsibility to be forthcoming, sometimes I think deliberately, to obscure their biases.

In the end, this is all about the critical importance of the media telling what radio broadcaster Paul Harvey called ‘the rest of the story’ ”.

 

 

 

Will you vote for Hillary… or for a woman?

Alex Conant, Marco Rubio’s communications director during his presidential race, recently sat down with the Huffington Post to discuss the campaign.

Conant: “Look, I think what we saw last night (June 7) is what we’re going to see from the Clinton campaign every day from now until November. Which is, they’re going to make this election a referendum on whether or not you want a woman in the White House. Not whether or not you want Hillary Clinton in the White House. I think that’s her only message.

Huffington Post: Do you think it plays?

Conant: It’s better than asking people to vote for Hillary.

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This illuminating conversation took place the day after the California and New Jersey primaries, when Clinton picked up enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee after focusing heavily on being the first female candidate of a major political party.

In sync with Conant’s observation, Hillary triumphantly claimed the Democratic nomination, focusing on the “first woman” theme.

“Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone, the first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee,” she announced to applause at a campaign event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Responding in lockstep, media across the country announced Hillary’s victories with stories emphasizing that she would be the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination:

Clinton claims milestone as first female major-party nominee, wins California primary. Los Angeles Times

Hillary Clinton’s historic moment. Hillary Clinton — former first lady, former U.S. senator, and former secretary of state — has become the first woman to capture a major-party nomination for president. CNN

‘History made’: Clinton claims nomination. Hillary Clinton triumphantly claimed the Democratic nomination for president on Tuesday, calling for party unity to stop Donald Trump as she became the first woman in U.S. history to lead a major-party ticket. Politico

Hillary Clinton becomes first female presidential nominee from a major party after securing enough delegates. Daily News.

Following the party line, when Oprah Winfrey endorsed Hillary for President on June 7 (Wow! That was a surprise), she highlighted that it is time for voters to elect the nation’s first female president.

“I’m with her,” she told Nancy O’Dell of ‘Entertainment Tonight’. “It’s a seminal moment for women. What this says is that there is no ceiling. That ceiling has gone ‘boom,’ you know?”

 

It’s no secret that Hillary is a damaged and flawed candidate, so the “first woman” approach makes a lot of sense.

Her e-mail scandal may be fairly recent, but she is associated with decades of personal and political blunders and scandals that have led a high level of Clinton fatigue among the public.

“She has always been awkward and uninspiring on the stump,” a senior Democratic consultant once told the Washington Post. “Hillary has Bill’s baggage and now her own as secretary of state — without Bill’s personality, eloquence or warmth.”

The Democratic party has also known for a very long time it is confronting a serious Hillary trust gap.

In a July 2015 Quinnipiac University national poll, 57 percent of respondents said Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, one of the worst scores among all the top candidates at the time. In a subsequent Quinnipiac University poll, “liar” was the first word that came to mind more than any other in an open-ended question when voters were asked what they thought of Clinton, followed by “dishonest” and “untrustworthy”.

In a more recent Washington Post-ABC News national poll, 57 percent of people said they didn’t believe Hillary was honest and trustworthy.

But Hillary’s problems as a candidate go even deeper than that.

“Voters see her as an extraordinarily cynical, power-hungry insider,” James Poulos said in The Week magazine on Feb. 2. “She is out for herself, not out for Americans. Voters know it.”

This ties in with a wide perception that Hillary and Bill are just plain greedy, what with them hauling off $190,000 worth of china, flatware, rugs, televisions, sofas and other gifts when they moved out of the White House, taking money from all sorts of unsavory people and foreign countries for their Foundation, and charging exorbitant amounts for speeches.

David Axelrod, a political consultant for Obama, noted in his book, “Believer”, that Hillary has two other main weaknesses: she’s a polarizing rather than a “healing figure,” and she has a hard time selling herself as the “candidate of the future” given her checkered past and long political resume.

So here we are, facing the possibility Hillary will become the “first woman” president not because of, but despite, herself (and maybe because her opponent is another deeply flawed candidate).

Just goes to show that Clarence Darrow was right. “When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it,” he said.

 

 

It’ll be too damn bad if Trump gets walloped

The glee was palpable. This past weekend, E.J. Dionne Jr., a liberal columnist at the Washington Post, exuberantly declared that Donald Trump’s candidacy is set to implode.

But such elation may be misplaced if Trump’s defeat allows the status quo politicians, power brokers and so-called thought leaders to claim victory and dismiss the concerns of many of his frustrated and embittered supporters.

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Trump’s supporters reflect a lot of discontent that’s boiling up in this country. If it’s just dismissed as the complaints of a fringe and we return to politics as usual, that would be a tragedy.

It would mean ignoring millions of Americans like Sam W., a longtime friend from back East.

Sam called me the other day to shoot the breeze. We started talking about cycling tours and our children, but it wasn’t long before the conversation turned to politics.

And off he went, hardly pausing for a breath.

Sam’s a professional, has a graduate degree and is drawn to Donald Trump, partly because of his disgust with politics as usual. In an exasperated tone, he said he felt that the pundits, the media and political leaders in both parties are demonizing him and others like him as poorly educated, ill-informed, racist bumpkins who need to get with the program.

“It’s really discouraging,” Sam said, “to be labeled a nutcase and a low-knowledge voter because I think the leaders of both parties have utterly failed us in confronting America’s problems.”

His litany of frustrations was a long one.

When he argues that massive illegal immigration and sanctuary cities undermine the rule of law, sanctimonious liberals call him a bigot, he said.

When he lambastes Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s disastrous lead-from-behind foreign policy, the collapse of one Middle East country after another, Russia’s takeover of Crimea and ascendency in Syria and other international messes, he said he’s dismissed or ignored.

Sam also endorses the argument that some international defense agreements need to be reexamined. “Too many countries are only able to afford their cushy social welfare programs because the U.S. picks up the tab for their security,” Sam said. “That’s crap. When our own budget is strained, isn’t it legitimate to consider more sharing of the burden?”

When he expresses his frustration with the latest PC controversy, such as  the complaints by Emory University students that somebody writing “Trump 2016” in chalk on a campus sidewalk makes them feel unsafe and in pain, he’s accused of being a narrow-minded old fogie.

Sam is also disheartened with the failure of both parties to honestly tackle the ever-expanding national debt. When George W. Bush left office in January 2009, the national debt was $10 trillion. Now in the eighth year of Obama’s presidency, it is over $19 trillion.

But neither party is talking seriously about the critical need to reduce federal spending and avoid a debt crisis. Democrats never seem to give a damn, Sam said, but the Republicans aren’t much better because they say they care, but the truth is they still vote for budget busting bills.

Sam also doesn’t think either party has really shown much real concern for the poor. The Democrats just want to expand the welfare state and generate thank-you votes, he said, and the Republicans seem insensitive to the legitimate concerns of struggling Americans.

For that matter, the establishment elite of both parties doesn’t seem to understand the legitimate worries of the middle class either, Sam said. A lot of Americans are really scared and struggling just to stay in place, he said, but politicians seem more focused on catering to big banks, corporations and the wealthy.

And think about what we may end up with if Trump is pushed out, Sam said. “On the Republican side we could be faced with Ted Cruz, a right-wing bible-thumping moralist who is a pariah in his own party. On the other side, Hillary Clinton is an uninspiring and widely distrusted candidate whose entire family stinks of greed and appears oblivious to common standards of conduct.”

“An awful lot of Americans are just completely disillusioned with U.S. politics as usual,” Sam said.

 “Whether they are the academic, media, and entertainment elites of the Left or the political and business elites of the Right, America’s self-appointed best and brightest uniformly view the passions unleashed by Trump as the modern-day equivalent of a medieval peasants’ revolt. And, like their medieval forebears, they mean to crush it,” the National Review said earlier this year.

If they succeed, and then ignore the concerns of Sam and millions of Americans like him, the prognosis for stability and progress is not good.

Obama and the media: a breakdown on both sides

President Obama takes the cake in complaining about the failure of the media to hold politicians accountable.

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After all, his administration has done all it can to stonewall and deceive the media.

On Monday, he made extensive remarks at a Washington, D.C. event for the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting about the responsibilities of journalists. His comments, given his record of trying to thwart the media, were remarkable.

“Real people depend on you to uncover the truth,” he declared. “We should be held accountable…What we’re seeing right now does corrode our democracy and our society. When our elected officials and political campaigns become entirely untethered to reason and facts and analysis, when it doesn’t matter what is true and what’s not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make decisions on behalf of future generations.”

“The electorate… would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when the politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises that they can’t keep,” Obama said. “And there are reporters here who know they can’t keep them… When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism. ”

Though he may well have intended his remarks to be a dig at media coverage of Donald Trump, Obama was a very strange messenger given his misstatements and resistance to media oversight.

After all, it was Obama who made the infamous comment about his Affordable Care Act: “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.  The only change you’ll see are falling costs as our reforms take hold.”

And it’s under the Obama administration that the government has set a dismal record of failing to provide information in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, many from journalists. People who have asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, a record, according to an Associated Press investigation.

In some FOIA cases, usually after news organizations filed expensive federal lawsuits, the Obama administration found tens of thousands of pages after it previously said it couldn’t find any, the AP said. The website Gawker, for example, sued the State Department in 2015 when it said it couldn’t find any emails an aide to Hillary Clinton and former deputy assistant secretary of state, had sent to reporters. It was only after the lawsuit was filed that the State Department found 90,000 documents about correspondence between the aide and reporters.

Since Obama became president, his administration has pursued an aggressive war against whistleblowers and leakers to the media, with more prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act than under all previous presidents combined.

And to top it all off, Obama proudly proclaimed in his Toner Prize remarks, “…something I’m really proud of is the fact that, if you go back and see what I said in 2007 and you see what I did, they match up,” a comment that, for some unexplainable reason, was met with applause by the fawning media in attendance.

Were they not aware of all the broken promises documented on the Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact.

Maybe not. Maybe the mainstream media have been too busy serving as cheerleaders or protectors of the administration.

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Even the Washington Post story about his remarks at the Toner event , written by a reporter who covers the White House, was little more than a 510 word press release relaying Obama’s speech verbatim, devoid of any context.

Maybe they were busy writing impactful stories about the Kardashians, or a man dressed as a shark in Katy Perry’s Super Bowl half-time performance, or a 1000 word story about a campaign worker manhandling a Breitbart reporter at a Donald Trump event.