ANALYSIS AND ADMIN UPDATES
Let’s begin with some generalized updates and analysis of the Administration during its first month.
Since there is no existing policy or ideology on many issues, the persons best able to sell their ideas — or, alternatively, smartly deploy the federal bureaucracy — can win policy arguments. The view that has gained currency over the last month, that Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon is all-powerful (“President Bannon?” the editorial board of The New York Times wrote on Jan. 30) is overly simplistic. Bannon has never worked on Capitol Hill. Congress has a number of levers of power to influence a presidency, and is closely aligned with another member of Trump’s team, Vice President Mike Pence. Bannon has strong views on foreign policy, but so does Jim Mattis, who runs a 2 million-person Defense Department with staffers all over the world.
Indeed, Trump’s administration has at least eight major factions, which has become clear based on statements and decisions by his advisers since the November election but also confirmed by interviews with veteran Washington figures who are dealing with his team. And to understand what is happening and will happen in this administration, it is crucial to understand these power centers, which are cooperating but also competing with one another.
- Just How Abnormal is the Trump Presidency? (New York Times)
To help us get our bearings, we asked experts across the ideological spectrum — people who have served in government or studied the way governments work — to rate 20 news events for importance and abnormality. More often than not, the administration’s actions have been both highly unusual and highly consequential, The Upshot’s 15 survey panelists said.
Of the nation’s 3,113 counties (or county equivalents), just 303 were decided by single-digit margins — less than 10 percent. In contrast, 1,096 counties fit that description in 1992, even though that election featured a wider national spread.1 During the same period, the number of extreme landslide counties — those decided by margins exceeding 50 percentage points — exploded from 93 to 1,196, or over a third of the nation’s counties.
- Donald Trump: 28 Days Later (Politico)
- Americans See US World Standing as Worst in a Decade (Gallup)
- 42% of Americans believe the world views the U.S. favorably
- 29% say world leaders respect Trump; 67% said same of Obama in 2009
- Satisfaction with U.S. on the world stage is near record low
- Fact Check Trump’s Speech to Congress (Chicago Tribune)
- At the root of Trump’s new fury: Total contempt for American democracy (Washington Post)
We’re witnessing a level of total disdain for basic democratic and institutional processes that defies description, and perhaps calls for a new vocabulary. But the story does not end here. As Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic explain in a great piece, the almost comical lack of good faith that Trump and the White House are showing toward our processes is inspiring an escalation in institutional pushback — from the courts, the media, government leakers, and civil society — that is having much more of a constraining effect than Trump ever could have anticipated.
WAR WITH THE PRESS
One of the biggest stories of Trump’s presidency thus far is his intensely antagonistic relationship with the media.
Why is this important? Here’s some context.
News media has an important role to play in any representative form of government. The news is how citizens stay informed on current issues; it influences voting and other forms of civic action. It is a primary method of ensuring that the government of the people remains so:
The fact of the matter is that democracy requires informed citizens. No governing body can be expected to operate well without knowledge of the issues on which it is to rule, and rule by the people entails that the people should be informed. In a representative democracy, the role of the press is twofold: it both informs citizens and sets up a feedback loop between the government and voters. The press makes the actions of the government known to the public, and voters who disapprove of current trends in policy can take corrective action in the next election. Without the press, the feedback loop is broken and the government is no longer accountable to the people. The press is therefore of the utmost importance in a representative democracy. [source]
Journalism is sometimes called the fourth estate, a phrase attributed to Thomas Carlyle, who wrote in 1841, “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”
Government administrations and journalists have had contentious relationships in the past, of course, and certainly Presidents of both parties must have felt at times that they were receiving undeserved criticism. However, in American civic life, political leaders – especially Presidents – of both parties have generally taken great care to speak about the press with respect when their words entered the public sphere. Consider the following quotes:
“No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
[I]t is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.
-Teddy Roosevelt, ‘Sedition, A Free Press, and Personal Rule’
Wherever despotism abounds, the sources of public information are the first to be brought under its control. Where ever the cause of liberty is making its way, one of its highest accomplishments is the guarantee of the freedom of the press.
Absolute freedom of the press to discuss public questions is a foundation stone of American liberty.
There is a terrific disadvantage in not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily. Even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn’t write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn’t any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.
-John F. Kennedy
I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive. And it can be corrosive. And it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.
-George W. Bush
Now, compare those quotes with the following:
“The press is the enemy, the establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy.”
This really doesn’t require much commentary from me. Presented below are some of the reasons why I titled this post “WAR WITH THE PRESS”:
- ‘Enemies of the people’: Trump remark echoes history’s worst tyrants (BBC); Trump Embraces ‘Enemy of the People,’ a Phrase With a Fraught History (NYTimes)
The phrase was too toxic even for Nikita Khrushchev, a war-hardened veteran communist not known for squeamishness. As leader of the Soviet Union, he demanded an end to the use of the term “enemy of the people” because “it eliminated the possibility of any kind of ideological fight.” “The formula ‘enemy of the people,’” Mr. Khrushchev told the Soviet Communist Party in a 1956 speech denouncing Stalin’s cult of personality, “was specifically introduced for the purpose of physically annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader.
It is difficult to know if President Trump is aware of the historic resonance of the term, a label generally associated with despotic communist governments rather than democracies. But his decision to unleash the terminology has left some historians scratching their heads. Why would the elected leader of a democratic nation embrace a label that, after the death of Stalin, even the Soviet Union found to be too freighted with sinister connotations?
- McRaven backs journalists, stresses value of communication in Moody talk (Daily Texan); Retired Navy admiral: Trump remark about media ‘the greatest threat to democracy’ (The Hill)
“We must challenge this statement and this sentiment that the news media is the enemy of the American people,” McRaven said. “This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”
McRaven, a UT journalism graduate of 1977, shared stories from his experience as a Navy SEAL trainee, as a commanding officer in Iraq and Afghanistan and as the man credited with organizing and overseeing the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, connecting each allegory to one common refrain: To be a great leader, one must effectively use communication in everything they do. [emphasis mine]
- Trump strategist Stephen Bannon tells media to “keep its mouth shut” (CBS)
President Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist says that the media should “keep its mouth shut.” …“I want you to quote this,” Bannon [said] to The New York Times. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”
- Trump Intensifies His Attacks on Journalists and Condemns FBI ‘Leakers’ (NYTimes)
The moves underscored the degree to which Mr. Trump and members of his inner circle are eager to use the prerogatives of the presidency to undercut those who scrutinize him, dismissing negative stories as lies and confining press access at the White House to a few chosen news organizations considered friendly. The Trump White House has also vowed new efforts to punish leakers. Trump’s attacks on the press came as the White House pushed back on a report by CNN on Thursday night that a White House official had asked the F.B.I. to rebut a New York Times article last week detailing contacts between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russian intelligence officials. The report asserted that a senior White House official had called top leaders at the F.B.I. to request that they contact reporters to dispute the Times’s account.
- White House selectively blocks media outlets from briefing with Spicer (Politico)
The Committee to Protect Journalists and the National Press Club both condemned it, as did two outlets whose reporters did sit in on the gaggle, The Wall Street Journal and McClatchy. Both publications indicated that they did not initially realize that Spicer was barring other outlets from the briefing and pledged to boycott similar arrangements in the future. “The Wall Street Journal strongly objects to the White House’s decision to bar certain media outlets from today’s gaggle,” the paper said. “Had we known at the time, we would not have participated and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future.”
- Sean Spicer Meets The Press. No Cameras Allowed, Again. (NYTimes)
- White House blocks CNN, New York Times from press briefing hours after Trump slams media (Washington Post); After Trump calls media an enemy of the people, White House bars many news outlets from briefing (LATimes)
Now, normally, if you were going to do something like this — an extended gaggle, off camera — you would have one person from each news outlet. As you know, we have multiple people from CNN here every day. So, if you’re going to do something beyond a pool, which is sort of the smallest group of reporters that then disseminates the information, you would have one person from every news outlet.
That is not what the White House was doing today. What the White House was doing was handpicking the outlets they wanted in for this briefing. So Breitbart, the Washington Times, the One America News Network — news outlets that maybe the White House feels are more favorable were all allowed in, whereas I was blocked from entering, Politico was blocked from entering, the New York Times, the L.A. Times. All of these news outlets were blocked from going to a gaggle.
- Trump Supporters Receive “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey Moments After President Slams Reporters (MediaMatters)
Trump and his administration have engaged in an unprecedented war on the press. The president routinely singles out legitimate outlets and reporters as “fake news,” and his chief strategist has labeled the press the “opposition party.” During his February 16 press conference, Trump was particularly “combative” with reporters, turning the event — which was ostensibly to announce a new labor secretary nominee — into a “screed against the media.”
- Jose Pagliery: When people responded favorably to the media, they blamed “sabotage” (twitter)
- Trump asks for money to fight the media
The President is asking for money to fight the media.
The President. Is asking. For money. To fight. The media.
THIS SEEMS … NOT … GOOD
- CNN claps back after Kellyanne Conway disputes network passed on interview over ‘credibility’ issues (mediaite)
- CNN host shuts down guest for making ‘fake news’ claim (The Hill)
- “any negative polls are fake news”
AM I THE ONLY ONE CONCERNED ABOUT THIS??????
THIS IS SERIOUSLY TERRIFYING
You can’t say things like this
You just can’t
“Any negative polls are fake” is the reasoning of very small children and dictators
- State Department press briefing canceled because of travel order (Washington Post); First State Department Press Briefing of Trump Administration Canceled (NYMag)
The State Department hasn’t held a daily press briefing since January 19, the last full day of the Obama administration. That nearly six-week break was supposed to end Monday, March 6 — but the wait continues for at least another day. The first daily press briefing under Trump was canceled so as reportedly not to compete with the announcement of the White House’s new executive order on travel. …The State Department daily briefings date back to the Eisenhower administration. The sessions are seen as a key communication tool for America’s diplomatic agenda, giving guidance to those in foreign service representing the U.S. abroad and broadcasting policy priorities to allies and adversaries and to the few people watching the televised sessions on C-Span. According to the Washington Post, former secretary of State John Kerry had in his first month given a welcome address when he assumed the role of top diplomat, a speech at the University of Virginia, and 15 readouts. Tillerson reportedly will not do anything similar.
- Tapper: Tillerson traveling without press ‘insulting’ (The Hill)
CNN anchor Jake Tapper on Thursday called it “insulting” for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not to bring press on his first major trip to Asia as a member of the administration. The comments come amid concerns among some reporters about access to the secretary of State.…The secretary of State also allowed few journalists to accompany him on recent trips to Germany and Mexico, breaking with past practice, according to Foreign Policy.
- Trump has called dozens of things fake news. None of them are. (Media Matters)
Media Matters defines “fake news” as “information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news.” We wrote that using a “narrow definition” helps “distinguish fake news from other types of misleading information by clarifying that the former is patently false and was created and presented in a way meant to deceive consumers into thinking it is real.” We also clarified that the term refers “to a specific piece of information; it does not refer to any particular type of news outlet, individual, or other actor.”
- Fox’s Shepard Smith: CNN is not ‘fake news’ (the Hill)
- CNN’s Jim Acosta: “There’s something worse than fake news and that’s the denial of real news” (MediaMatters); pair with No, President Trump, negative polls are not ‘fake news’(CNN)
- ‘Alternative Facts’: The Needless Lies of the Trump Administration (Atlantic)
No incident better summarizes this than a bizarre briefing by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday. Speaking in the Brady Briefing Room, Spicer laid into the assembled reporters. “Yesterday, at a time when our nation and the world was watching the peaceful transition of power and, as the president said, the transition and the balance of power from Washington to the citizens of the United States, some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting,” he charged. He then went on at length, attacking reporters, particularly one from The New York Times, for tweeting photographs comparing the size of the crowd at Friday’s inauguration unfavorably with Barack Obama’s first inauguration. (That image was retweeted from the National Park Service’s account, prompting a brief Twitter freeze at the Interior Department.)
- conservative criticism of Trump’s relationship with the press:
- Evan McMullin says, “The press is the only institution holding President Trump accountable on a daily basis and that’s exactly why he’s trying to destroy it.” (twitter)
- ‘That’s how dictators get started’: McCain criticizes Trump for calling media ‘the enemy’ (Washington Post)
- Former President George W. Bush Levels Tacit Criticism at Trump (NYTimes)
- Media more trustworthy than Trump, poll finds (CNN)
[I note here that for the strongly partisan among us, it’s as if there are two entirely separate realities; Trump’s continued attempt to undermine the credibility of the media only further deepens this divide]
- Mexican Journalists to U.S. Colleagues: ‘We Never Believed This Day Would Come’ (PEN)
At this time of an unprecedented, relentless assault on the free press of the United States by the Trump administration, we Mexican journalists, writers, and publishers stand in solidarity with you as you do your crucial work. For decades you have stood by us as successive governments and criminal gangs have targeted our press and assassinated our journalists for doing work in the public interest—uncovering crimes and corruption. And so many times we have only known the truth about our own country by reading the stories followed and uncovered in the U.S. press. We urge you to continue to uphold freedom of expression as your society, institutions, and values depend upon it. You have stood with us during the darkest hours of press freedom in Mexico and, although we never could believe this day would come, we now stand with you.
I remind you here that meanwhile all of this is going on,
- we still have no tax returns while
- the Trump Admin is skirting its own ethics rules and
- Surprise! also hires three men for every one woman! ; meanwhile
- there’s so much smoke swirling around the Trump-Russia connections I’m amazed a fire hasn’t broken out and
- Jeff Sessions remains awful and
- Trump gave a seriously unhinged press conference about a month ago and
- the state department & American diplomacy is withering away and
- the proposed budget ramps up military spending and
- Trump’s right hand man is trying to ‘deconstruct the administrative state’ and
- the Administration is lying about crime rates and this matters because
- states use federal lies to pass laws
- and Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states are pushing laws to criminalize protest… …basically, what I’m saying here is that
- #NotTheEnemy (CPJ, twitter)
In conclusion, a few more media-centric articles:
- There are consequences for undermining institutional authority and civic trust (NYMag)
- There are consequences for lying on national tv (Mediaite)
- Thoughts on Covering Politics in a Post-Truth America (Brookings)
- We have to ask How informed are citizens, and how are they getting their news? (Poynter)
Coming next time: more updates on #TheSwamp.