Trump’s Relationship With the Press

Trump’s Relationship With the Press

 


Trump’s Relationship With the Press

During his Wednesday press conference, Donald Trump displayed what is likely to be a pattern in his relationship with the press: he shut down CNN reporter Jim Acosta, refusing to take his question and calling CNN “fake news.”

The move was an obvious retaliation for CNN’s breaking the story about a former British intelligence officer’s report about compromising material that Russia may possess and wish to use to blackmail our soon-to-be President. Trump’s treatment of Acosta was also a clear message to other Washington reporters: no matter how big your news organization, if you report something that displeases the President, you will lose access to him. The exchange prompted this Facebook post from former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather:

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Here is the article from Columbia Journalism Review to which Dan Rather is referring.

In order to fully understand the implications of Presidential exchanges like what took place in that press conference, one needs to look at today’s media landscape and Trump’s history of interacting with it.

Many news outlets today face high levels of public distrust – some rightfully earned, some not. Trump was brilliant throughout his campaign at playing that to his advantage, painting the media with a broad brush as dishonest, and having that message resonate with his supporters. The obvious implication of his repeated slams is that if the journalists’ version of events is a lie, his version must be true.

Donald Trump is also notoriously litigious, having been involved in thousands of lawsuits over his lifetime. On the campaign trail, he suggested rewriting the law to make it easier for a President to sue journalists.

Lastly, many of our more reputable news outlets are struggling today. The major newspapers and the three major broadcast TV networks of 40 years ago are now competing with 24-hour cable news, which is in turn competing with thousands of bloggers, tweeters and YouTubers: everyone is trying to have the edge, to be the first to break a story, to get the biggest share of an increasingly fractured audience. At the same time, in their struggle to remain financially solvent, many major news outlets have cut journalistic staff to a minimum, and the concern of further layoffs is always looming.

Enter Donald Trump: a fresh-from-the-tabloids-and reality-TV figure who was a household name before his Presidential run, who says and does entertaining and controversial (and therefore “newsworthy”) things every day. During his campaign, he proved to be a guaranteed ratings grabber, and news outlets consequently provided him hours of free coverage that none of his competition enjoyed (it might be argued that this excessive free coverage from day one of his campaign contributed to his electoral victory). The lucrative nature of covering Trump was best summarized in February, 2016 by CBS Chairman Les Monves when he said “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS” (Full Article – Politico).

Now imagine that you are a reporter assigned to cover the White House. Your job requires that you have access to the President and his Administration, and your journalistic responsibility to the public requires that you ask challenging questions to get at important truths that the President may wish to conceal.

Mr. Trump is forcing a powerful and disturbing dynamic into this equation which has a high potential of distorting both of the afore-mentioned responsibilities: you now feel an unspoken pressure from your boss not to report in a way that might alienate your news organization from the President or that could risk bringing on a time-and-resource-draining lawsuit from him.

For those reporters willing to set aside their integrity, there are likely to be ample rewards from the Trump Administration: key interviews with high-ranking figures, the opportunity to be the first to get a “scoop” spoon-fed to them by Trump. For reporters wanting to operate in the long-standing journalistic tradition of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” there may be significant repercussions from this Administration.

That is a prospect that should concern every American, because complete and accurate information is essential to hold those in power accountable. What you can do is to support quality journalism financially when you see it, so that news outlets see some reward for holding to their ethics.

– rob rünt


The Importance of Critical Thinking in the Age of Trump

The Importance of Critical Thinking in the Age of Trump

 


The Importance of Critical Thinking in the Age of Trump

It goes without saying that we are living in a crazy, unprecedented time in America right now. Trump’s surrogates, either as a result of internal Administration chaos and confusion, or as a deliberate strategy to test ideas and keep everyone off balance, have regularly conveyed positions of Trump’s that he later denies are his actual positions. Trump himself expresses positions or versions of reality and later denies having said them. And federal employees, likely to experience dramatic changes in their duties, missions, salaries or employment, are reasonably assuming the worst and reacting accordingly –at times contacting the press to spread the word. Everyone in the country (who is paying any attention) is on pins and needles.

In such an atmosphere, it is profoundly difficult for the news media to be completely certain that they are always getting the story right. They are expected to be first with a story, and bear the weight of being the first line of defense in guarding our democracy. We all need to be very critical, now more than ever, as we take in information – through social media, in conversations with friends and family, and even when we look to long-established reputable news sources. We need to thoroughly evaluate the legitimacy of any “facts” before we take them in as actionable, and we need to be prepared to continually watch for updates or changes to those facts based on better information.

This is the America in which we live today – a country where a DC pizza joint can find itself the center of a bizarre YouTube-fueled horror story about a Hillary Clinton-run pedophile ring, where a gunman ultimately shows up on the doorstep demanding to see the underground tunnels where the children are being imprisoned.

Fake news is not just the realm of the right wing. The left will begin to see more and more of it as well, and we must be wary of what we take in. Trump is erratic and seems emotionally unstable, and the craziest news about him can seem thoroughly believable. Many of us are deeply worried about what his Administration will mean for us, those we love,our country and the world, and are ready to believe the worst.

But running with misinformation is not what we need right now. We need vigilance and a deep passion for justice paired with strong critical-mindedness and clear-eyed sobriety. I am doing my best to double- and triple-check everything that I post and run it through the best filters of logic and reason that I can, but I will be guilty of posting incorrect information from time to time too. My apologies in advance for any times that I may get the story wrong.

At the very least, Snopes can be a good (though also imperfect) preliminary resource for fact-checking some of the most outrageous online information that you may come across.

– rob rünt


Kindling

Kindling

Kindling

In the early morning hours of February 27, 1933, a fire rapidly engulfed the German Parliament, known as the Reichstag. The building was gutted, and firefighters found several bundles of what they determined to be fuel sources. A young communist named Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested nearby and was sentenced to death for setting the fire.

Less than a month earlier, Adolf Hitler had been sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. Historians widely credit the fire – and the resulting anti-communist and anti-immigrant hysteria that Hitler stirred in the German population – with Hitler’s ability to quickly consolidate power. The day after the fire, he convinced German President von Hindenburg to indefinitely enact an emergency decree suspending civil liberties, including freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the ability to communicate by mail or phone without government intrusion. Historians still debate whether the Reichstag fire was actually set by Nazis or communists. It should also be noted that Hitler did not rise to power advocating the mass extermination of human beings.

In the United States, on September 11, 2001, 21 terrorists used commercial airlines to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with an additional plane crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. As the day wore on, news anchor Tom Brokaw, struggling for something new and profound to say after hours of nonstop coverage, called the attack “an act of war, nothing less than that” and likened it to Pearl Harbor. After the attack, America responded militarily against an entire country, Afghanistan, for a criminal terrorist act committed by 21 individuals.

President Bush later turned his attention to Iraq as a potential source of terrorism that needed to be responded to “preemptively,” warning that we could not “wait for the final proof – the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” So we went to war with Iraq over what most Americans now acknowledge (and what critical thinkers at the time recognized) as flimsy evidence.

In the meantime, Americans had quickly come to accept things previously unacceptable: government intrusions into electronic communications without judicial authorization, torture of suspects, indefinite detainment, secretly authorized executions by American drones overseas – which sometimes killed innocent people, and which continued even into the final months of the Obama Administration.

The number of terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 has been small, even with many of the above measures reversed under Obama.

Last week, in response to Federal Judge James Robart putting a temporary nationwide  hold on the executive order on immigration, Donald Trump tweeted “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” The Trump Administration then asked an appeals court for an emergency stay of Judge Robart’s order.

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What follows from this point is purely speculation and should be taken as such.

I call your attention to the language used above: “emergency” stay; “If something happens blame him.” Given how few terrorist attacks have happened in the past 15 years, such imminent crisis-oriented language from the White House sounds very dire (Full Article – New York Times). Terrorist attacks are horrible, but they also account for far fewer deaths in America than many other obscure causes (Source: START). And if the goal is to prevent needless American deaths, thousands of times more Americans die each year from smoking (Source: Center for Disease Control), which is preventable, or heart disease (Source: Center for Disease Control), which is also preventable.

Trump is surely aware of how September 11 caused many Americans – even many who had opposed President Bush – to get behind their President. As former news anchor Dan Rather said on September 17, 2001, “wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.”

And if Trump is not aware of the history of the Reichstag fire, his Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon – former executive chair of the alt right/white nationalist news source Breitbart, a man with a thorough knowledge of history, and a man who Trump inadvertently signed an executive order appointing to his National Security Council – certainly is.

Vigilance, perspective and critical thinking are important tools for Americans right now.

– rob rünt

Note: After writing this piece, I discovered that economist Paul Krugman wrote a piece published on Friday indicating that he is of a similar opinion (Full Article – Daily KOS).


“We’re going to have to do things we never did before … that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy.”

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
November, 2015
(Full Article – Huffington Post)


 

On Moving to Canada

On Moving to Canada

On Moving to Canada

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, I felt strongly that if Trump won, I would move to another country. I have heard others say this in past elections. I never have. I said it this time because I meant it: I believe this President to be mentally ill, disconnected from reality, highly charismatic and influential, and having authoritarian tendencies. I am still in the United States because my spouse was unwilling to uproot.

Am I worried?

Yes.

Do I hate being stuck in a situation that I think can go very badly?

Yes.

Am I glad that we didn’t move?

Yes.

That may not make sense at first, but as I see the massive outpourings of resistance into the streets – good-hearted people many of whom have never protested in their lives – and as I see judges and even low-level government employees defying executive orders whose constitutionality is questionable, I am encouraged that our country’s immune system may be functioning as it should.

In reality, no place in the world is safe right now. A new country may be “offered up” by Trump to Russia or China for invasion as part of his new level of “real estate” deal. Or a country may be a traditional American ally or enemy that randomly prompts a tantrum over some minor slight resulting in a military conflict. And no country is safe from the effects of American financial malfeasance, environmental degradation or, God forbid, the global drift of nuclear fallout.

So I am glad to still be in the United States because the citizens of America have one thing that no other country has: the ability to influence Congress to slow or stop the worst of Trump’s actions, and more importantly, the ability to push Congress loudly and unrelentingly to impeach when the inevitable impeachable or illegal act occurs.

The rest of the world is counting on us to make right our mistake, to protect them. When progressives and other decent-minded people flee the United States, less power is left behind to stop what is happening, which ultimately affects the entire globe.

History is full of examples of authoritarian countries where things went disastrously and violently wrong. The United States of America does not have to be one of those. We can and must use our unique power within America to ensure that history records us as preventing a disaster, rather than choosing to leave that responsibility to others.

– rob rünt

Questions Raised by the Jeff Sessions Controversy

Questions Raised by the Jeff Sessions Controversy

 


Questions Raised by the Jeff Sessions Controversy

On January 10, 2017, US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) answered questions from Congress to determine whether he should be confirmed as US Attorney General. During that confirmation hearing, US Senator Al Franken (D-MN) asked Sessions the following question:

“CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the President-Elect last week that included information that quote ‘Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.’ These documents also allegedly say quote ‘there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government’ – again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out so – you know, but if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious, and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump Campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

Sessions’ response was given under oath:

“Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

As a result of that confirmation hearing, Jeff Sessions became the United States Attorney General. It was later determined that, while serving as the Trump Campaign’s top national security adviser, Sessions had actually met twice with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, considered by the US intelligence community to be a Russian spy and recruiter of spies, according to CNN. One of these meetings between Sessions and Kislyak was at the Republican National Convention where Trump was nominated as the Republican Party’s candidate for President.

The most benign, charitable interpretation of Sessions’ response to Franken was that he did not fully understand the question. A less kind interpretation is that he was intentionally lying, and there are multiple possibilities in between.

As Attorney General, Sessions should theoretically be in charge of the investigation into the Trump Campaign’s ties to Russia. Thankfully, Sessions was aware of the conflict that he had created with his nondisclosure and recused himself (removed himself) from being in charge of the investigation. Yet questions remain.

  1. Was this an honest misunderstanding of Senator Franken’s question, or did Senator Sessions knowingly lie under oath to Congress, which would be perjury – a felony?
  2. If this was truly an honest mistake, Sessions’ memory would surely have been jogged during the following weeks when President Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn made headlines as he resigned for not disclosing his own meetings with the same Russian diplomat. Why, during those subsequent weeks, did Sessions not correct the record? Why did he wait for Department of Justice officials to disclose their knowledge of the Sessions-Kislyak conversations?
  3. During his hearing to become US Attorney General (the US government’s chief law enforcement officer) if Sessions did knowingly lie to Congress, or knowingly continued to conceal the truth once he realized his omission, should he nonetheless continue on as Attorney General, or does his unethical and potentially criminal conduct warrant his resignation?
  4. What did Sessions and Kislyak discuss in their conversations? During the Republican National Convention, the Trump Campaign’s only contribution to the Republican Party Platform was a softening of US policy toward Russia over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Did the Kislyak-Sessions discussion at the Convention touch on that topic at all? In what way? If they discussed that, or the Trump Campaign, or policy ideas for a Trump Presidency, that is worrisome and unethical at best and requires intense scrutiny. If they discussed anything related to Hillary Clinton’s e-mails or Russia’s desire/efforts to sabotage her Campaign, that could potentially call into question the legitimacy of the entire Trump Presidency, because it could possibly show coordination between Russia’s actions and the Trump Campaign. It would also warrant even closer scrutiny of contacts that others in Trump’s orbit had with Russians, and could lead to criminal charges.
  5. What safeguards will the Department of Justice have in place to ensure that the Trump Administration is not tipped off about what evidence has been compiled in the investigation into connections between the Trump Campaign and Russia or between the Trump Administration and Russia?

Sessions is scheduled to return to the Senate to testify further on Monday 3/6 in order to clarify his earlier answers. Hopefully questions similar to those above will be asked to shed more light on the situation.

– rob rünt


February 27 – March 5, 2017

February 27 – March 5, 2017

 


Articles & Editorials:


Main Stories


Russia and Wilbur Ross, US Secretary of Commerce

New Commerce Secretary at Nexus of Lucrative Trump Russia Deal (21:44)
This is a must-watch. If you check out nothing else on this site this week, this story is huge.
(MSNBC – 2/27/17)

Two Trump Companies Discovered in Cyprus, EU’s Russian Off-Shore Banking Haven
(Huffington Post – 12/19/16, Updated 3/2/17)

Here’s Another Trump Cabinet Pick With Close Financial Ties to Russians
(Mother Jones – 12/19/16)


Russia and the Trump Campaign

Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking
(New York Times – 3/1/17)


Russia and Jeff Sessions, US Attorney General

Sessions Met With Russian Envoy Twice Last Year, Encounters He Later Did Not Disclose
(Washington Post – 3/1/17)

Jeff Sessions Denials of Contact With Russians are Falling Apart Quickly
(Washington Post – 3/2/17)

Six Times Sessions Talked About Perjury, Access, and Special Prosecutors – When It Involved the Clintons
(Washington Post – 3/2/17)

“Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials.”

CNN, regarding the Russian individual who met with recently resigned National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions
(CNN – 3/2/17)

 

Jeff Sessions Recuses Himself from Russia Inquiry
(New York Times – 3/2/17)

Meet the Russian Diplomat at the Center of the Sessions Controversy
(The Hill – 3/3/17)

Why Would Jeff Sessions Hide His Talks With Sergey Kislyak?
(New Yorker – 3/3/17)


Yemen Raid

Trump Passes Blame for Yemen Raid to His General: “They Lost Ryan”
(Washington Post – 2/28/17)

Yemen SEAL Raid Has Yielded No Significant Intelligence: Officials
(NBC News – 2/28/17)

Slain SEAL’s Dad Wants Answers: “Don’t Hide Behind My Son’s Death”
(Miami Herald – 2/26/17)


Other Stories That You Should Know About:


Healthcare

Trump: “Nobody Knew Healthcare Could Be So Complicated”
(The Guardian – 2/27/17)


Trump’s Mental health

Trump Says Obama is Helping to Organize Protests Against His Presidency
(Washington Post – 2/28/17)

Trump Accuses Obama of ‘Nixon/Watergate’ Wiretap – But Offers No Evidence
(Washington Post – 3/4/17)

Posted on Twitter around 6am Saturday, 3/4/17:

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Lawmakers Stunned by Trump’s Wiretap Allegations
(Politico – 3/5/17)

White House Says It Will No Longer Comment on Trump’s Wiretapping Claims
(Huffington Post – 3/5/17)

Director of National Intelligence (2010-2017) James Clapper on Trump’s Allegations of Wiretapping by Obama Administration
(Meet the Press, MSNBC – 3/5/17):

 


Freedom of the Press

“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.”

Former President George W. Bush
Interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show – 2/27/17
(Full Article : NPR)

Trump Moves to Become Master of His Own Messages
(New York Times – 3/2/17)


Hate Crimes

He Yelled ‘Get Out of My Country,’ Witnesses Say, and Then Shot Two Men from India, Killing One
(Washington Post – 2/24/17)

A Sikh Man Was Shot On His Driveway And Allegedly Told, “Go Back To Your Own Country”
(Buzzfeed – 3/4/17)

In Day of Pro-Trump Rallies, California March Turns Violent
(Reuters – 3/4/17)
Editor’s Note: Much of the violence in the rally was committed and/or incited by people who came to protest Trump. When the anti-Trump people behave like this, it serves to discredit the anti-Trump movement, and increases the likelihood that future Trump protests may experience retaliatory violence from Trump supporters.


Keeping Track of the Basics:


Editorials


Trump’s Emotional Moment With a Navy SEAL’s Wife Could Define Him – For Good But Also For Bad
(Aaron Blake, Washington Post – 3/1//17)

Remembering a City Where Smog Could Kill
(Jim Dwyer, New York Times – 2/28/17)

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Alternative Facts from an Alternative Universe

Self-selecting our news sources, a reluctance to hear opposing ideas, and the choice by many of us to surround ourselves only with like-minded individuals has resulted in many Americans becoming oblivious to the beliefs of those with whom they disagree. This bubble helped create the world of “alternative facts” in which Donald Trump could become President.

To counter this, each week I will present a little of what Trump’s supporters are thinking. Their reality may be very different from yours. Please listen/read to the end, and consider what respectful questions you could ask to better understand and have a conversation, rather than seeking to prove them wrong as quickly as possible and shut them down. We can’t change minds if we can’t talk to each other.


I’m a Silicon Valley Liberal, and I Traveled Across the Country to interview 100 Trump Supporters – Here’s What I Learned
(Sam Altman, Business Insider, 2/23/17)


Cartoons, Images & Videos


Photo by Agence France Presse:

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Artwork by Illustrator Kieron Dwyer:

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Posted by ImgFlip.com:

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Artwork posted on Facebook by Rob Brezsny:

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Published by Vox, Graphic by Javier Zarracina:

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Events & Actions

Two major nationwide protests coming up:

  • Wednesday, March 8, 2017: “A Day Without a Woman”
    Women nationwide will not be participating in work – at their jobs or in the home – to bring attention to the importance of women to the functioning of America. Learn more  here!
  • Saturday, April 15, 2017: “Trump Tax Day March”
    Americans across the country will be marching to let President Trump know that it’s not just reporters who care about his undisclosed tax returns – find your nearest rally here!

Resources & Organizations