Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Fox News screenshot
Newt Gingrich, a prominent supporter of President-elect Donald Trump and a Fox News contributor, would like to shatter the influence of an “adversarial” press. And he thinks Trump’s press conference confrontation with CNN reporter Jim Acosta has given the incoming administration the opportunity to dramatically reshape White House press interactions to favor journalists who will treat the president-elect more favorably.
During Trump’s January 11 presser, he lashed out at CNN and demanded the network apologize for a recent report on his alleged ties to Russia, and Acosta repeatedly called out, seeking to ask a question in response. Trump replied by calling CNN “terrible,” castigating Acosta for being “rude,” and declaring, “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!” Sean Spicer, who will serve as Trump’s White House press secretary,subsequently told Acosta that he would be removed if he continued to press for a question, and Spicer later demanded that the reporter apologize to the president-elect.
Team Trump’s efforts seem intended to both damage the credibility of CNN and cow other networks into shying away from similarly critical journalism — as Gingrich put it, to “shrink and isolate” the network. But the Fox News contributor wants the incoming administration to go even further and use the incident as an excuse to “close down the elite press.”
Gingrich laid out this strategy during an interview on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, one of the most pro-Trump venues available. He urged Spicer to learn “a couple of big lessons” from the incident. First and foremost, he suggested that Acosta be banned from reporting on Trump events for 60 days “as a signal, frankly, to all the other reporters that there are going to be real limits” for proper behavior.
But Gingrich’s recommendations went far beyond chastising Acosta. He urged Trump to stop prioritizing questions from major news outlets due to their tough coverage and confrontational attitude. Instead, he suggested that he “extend the privileges to reporters from out of town, folks that fly in from all over the country to be allowed to be at a briefing.” Those reporters, Gingrich suggested, would be “a lot more courteous” and “responsible” rather than being “adversarial.”
Gingrich went on to explain his theory of the press under the Trump administration. “You don’t have to think of The New York Times or CNN or any of these people as news organizations,” he explained. “They’re mostly propaganda organizations. And they’re going to be after Trump every single day of his presidency.”
“And he needs to understand that that’s the case, and so does Sean Spicer in speaking for him. And they simply need to go out there and understand they have it in their power to set the terms of this dialogue.” He added, “They can close down the elite press.”
Trump has already started to take steps like those Gingrich describes. During the 2016 campaign, he reportedly made a deal with the right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns television stations across the country, to provide more access to its stations in exchange for a promise from Sinclair to broadcast his interviews without commentary.
He took questions from sycophantic pro-Trump outlets Breitbart.com and One America News Network during this week’s press conference. Right Side Broadcasting Network, which has been described as “the unofficial version of Trump TV,” claims it will be in the White House press briefing room under the new president. Other right-wing outlets like Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette and Alex Jones’ conspiracy website Infowars could be next.
Alexey Kovalev, a Russian journalist who has covered Vladimir Putin’s annual press conferences, warned of the use of such tactics in a searing “message to my doomed colleagues in the American media” that he authored following Trump’s press conference.
“A mainstay of Putin’s press conferences is, of course, softball questions,” Kovalev wrote. These include both “hyperlocal issues that a president isn’t even supposed to be dealing with,” which nonetheless provide “a real opportunity for him to shine.” Putin also benefits from “people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies.”
“But there will also be one token critic who will be allowed to ask a ‘sharp’ question,” Kovalev added, “only to be drowned in a copious amount of bullshit, and the man on the stage will always be the winner (‘See? I respect the media and free speech’).”
Of course we are not there yet, but the precedent is unnerving. Gingrich wants nothing more than a cowed, broken press that exists solely to promote the Republican Party’s message. We’ll see soon enough how much of his advice Trump takes.
UPDATE: Gingrich is not alone in urging Trump to freeze out the press. Following Trump’s election, Hannity stated that “until members of the media come clean about colluding with the Clinton campaign and admit that they knowingly broke every ethical standard they are supposed to uphold, they should not have the privilege, they should not have the responsibility of covering the president on behalf of you, the American people.”
“In other words, the mainstream press should not be allowed to cover Trump,” New York University’s Jay Rosen wrote in response to Hannity’s comments. “A few years ago that was a bridge too far. Now it’s a plausible test of poisoned waters.” It looks like we’ll see more of those tests in the days to come.
Donald Trump defied the odds to win the 2016 US presidential election. When he announced his candidacy, virtually nobody thought he had a shot at securing the Republican Party nomination. Having done so, he consistently trailed Hillary Clinton in the polls right up to Election Day, leading to a reasonable widespread presumption that he was going to lose. While pre-election poll averages had Clinton beating Trump by 5 points nationally, she in fact beat him by just slightly over 2 points. That 3 percentage point polling error, while not especially large in statistical terms, was just enough to push Clinton from small leads in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania into razor-thin defeats.
This remarkable turn of events has breathed new life into the pernicious myth of “Teflon Trump,” the notion that the reality television star who is unquestionably a master of obtaining attention is also a master of political persuasion or confusion.
Ruth Marcus wrote a year ago that “Teflon Trump” is hard to attack, and endless think pieces have been churned out on the theme that Trump’s supporters “don’t care” about the various scandals and betrayals swirling around him. Others, like Dartmouth’s Brendan Nyhan, focus on Trump as a master of distraction who uses his frenetic pace of tweets to pull the wool over the American people’s eyes.
The reality is that none of this is true. Trump may be an enormously powerful individual, backed by narrow but cohesive Republican Party majorities in both the House and Senate. But he’s not a popular one.
On January 10, Quinnipiac released the first big Donald Trump poll of 2017, and it showed that he retains some strengths as a politician. Most voters think he’s intelligent and that he’s a “strong person.” A plurality believe he has “good leadership skills.”
But his job approval rating is a dismal 37 percent, with 51 percent saying they disapprove of the job he’s doing. Rather than being an effective political tactic, Trump’s habit of frequently saying untrue things has led Americans to conclude by a 53-39 margin that he is not honest. Fifty-two percent say that Trump “does not care about average Americans,” and 62 percent say that he is “not level-headed.”
Even if you make allowances for the fact that polls may be modestly understating Trump’s support, as they appear to have on Election Day, these are dismal numbers.
By contrast, the same poll finds Barack Obama with a 55-39 job approval rating and says that only 34 percent of the public believes Trump will be a better president than Obama (45 percent pick Obama).
Not many pollsters have done Trump job approval ratings yet, since he’s not president yet. But that 55 percent job approval number for Obama is right in line with broad national averages, so it’s unlikely that Quinnipiac has a weird sample or an outlier result here.
On a call with journalists this morning, the Trump transition team professed to be unconcerned with the president-elect’s weak poll numbers.
“When I look at the polls, his approval ratings continue to go up,” said incoming press secretary Sean Spicer.
Trump’s favorable numbers did get a boost after he won the election, likely due to new respect from Republicans who were angry in the summer and fall that his antics seemed to be blowing a very winnable election for the GOP.
But Trump’s bounce has been sharply limited by his failure to take advantage of his honeymoon movement by doing any kind of meaningful outreach to reassure those alarmed by his victory. His numbers have plateaued at an underwater level that leave him as the least popular president-elect of all time.
People who find Trump’s antics to be bizarre and alarming and who wonder how the American people could possibly fall for them should not feel isolated and alone — many people enjoy the Trump Show, but most do not.
The reason he won the election isn’t that most people thought he’d be a good president — it’s that many people who didn’t think he’d be a good president voted for him anyway. Trump won a landslide 47-30 margin among voters who said they had an unfavorable view of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. He won less than 50 percent of the vote in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, and Utah even while obtaining 101 electoral votes from those seven states.
Since Democrats lost the election, they have spent the past two months embroiled in inevitable post-defeat recriminations. By contrast, Republicans have been shifting to close ranks around Trump. During the campaign, about a dozen Republican Party senators indicated that they would not vote for him. One might think that US senators who deemed Trump too dishonest, unstable, unethical, and possibly corrupt to vote for would, after his victory, insist on rigorous congressional oversight of his business dealings and his appointees. But one would be mistaken.
While Trump has received some pushback from Capitol Hill on this or that, by and large the Republican senators who opposed him are currently trying to implement a strategy of “forgive and forget,” thinking that if they agree to ignore his financial conflicts of interest, he will sign the laws they pass, and all will end happily ever after. This implicit bargain may be wise or it may be foolish, and it certainly empowers Trump. But that’s not the same as making him popular.
The United States isn’t a plebiscitary democracy.
Donald Trump has four years in office, during which he can wield the impressive powers of the presidency whether people like him or not. The 2018 Senate map is favorable to the GOP, and the way district boundaries have been drawn ensures that House Republicans can retain a majority even if most people vote for their opponent. Trump himself showed in 2016 that he is capable of winning elections without getting more votes than his opponent and without being popular. All of which is to say that Trump’s unpopularity has somewhat limited relevance. To the extent that the GOP continues to hang together, it will have enormous capacity to govern.
But Republicans are operating in risky territory. Trump is unpopular in a way that is without precedent for a new president. Polls show that the public is genuinely concerned about Trump’s financial conflicts of interest and the lack of disclosure of his personal finances.
Trump could have — but did not — choose to use his transition period to address the public’s concerns about those issues or try to put to rest the public’s very serious doubts about his temperament. That leaves both Trump and his co-partisans in Congress essentially hostage to events. The first time anything goes wrong, Trump will be facing a public that’s primed to believe the president is ill-tempered, dishonest, unqualified, and already doing a bad job — and he has no media magic that can help him cover that up.
“You have to be careful because anything you say can move markets or start wars,” President Barack Obama said. | Getty
President Barack Obama warned against the dangers that lie in the power of the presidency during a wide-ranging TV interview Friday.
In a thinly veiled comment aimed at the incoming administration, Obama told NBC’s Lester Holt that, “You have to be careful because anything you say can move markets or start wars.”
The outgoing president also discussed at length the various highs and lows of his presidency, naming the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as his lowest point in office.
“My worst day as president was hearing that 20 six-year-olds had been shot in the most brutal way,” he said.
The president also spoke of the challenges of lifting up his party while in office.
“I had trouble transferring my personal popularity or support to the broader cause of the Democratic Party,” he said. “And I think that’s a legitimate criticism.
Obama, the first African-American president, also elaborated on how his journey didn’t spell the end of racial challenges facing the country.
“I think any talk of the post-racial America before my election was never realistic,” he said. “I think that talk was not only naive but it created some problems down the road.”
Obama, however, said he remained optimistic about the changes he made while in office, and that even though the country was seemingly moving in an opposing direction, “his spirit was unchanged.”
“You get the baton and hopefully you’ve either advanced a lead or closed the gap when you pass the baton to the next person,” he said.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in St. Louis earlier this month. (Seth Perlman/AP)
Eloquence is a trait valued by debate team coaches but not necessarily needed for the White House. Though their supporters will always defend them, George Washington and George W. Bush are just two of many presidents considered poor public speakers — and there have been many commanders in chief in the two centuries between them who were not necessarily golden-tongued.
Now, an academic paper has put some presidents and political candidates’ language on trial. “A Readability Analysis of Campaign Speeches From the 2016 US Presidential Campaign,” released this week by Carnegie Mellon University, analyzed stump speeches to measure their “readability” — the reading level of an address, ranked from first grade to 12th grade. And, according to a summary from the university, the study found “most candidates using words and grammar typical of students in grades 6-8, though Donald Trump tends to lag behind the others.”
The story was more complicated than “Donald Trump can’t talk good,” however. First, the researchers needed a way to measure readability.
“It is based on the observation that some words (and grammatical structures) appear with greater frequency at one grade level than another,” Maxine Eskenazi, a scientist in the university’s Language Technologies Institute, and Elliot Schumacher, a graduate student, wrote. “For example, we would expect that we could see the word ‘win’ fairly frequently in third grade documents while the word ‘successful’ would be more frequent in, say, seventh grade documents. We would not see dependent clauses very often at the second grade level whereas they would be quite frequent at the seventh grade level.”
Then, they needed some speeches to analyze.
“A database was collected containing documents from each of the [then] five current presidential candidates: Ted Cruz (5), Hillary Clinton (7), Marco Rubio (6), Bernie Sanders (6), Donald Trump (8),” the paper read. “… They range from the declaration of candidacy speech to campaign trail speeches to victory speeches to defeat speeches.” What about a historical comparison? “We also analyzed the readability of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address … and a speech from Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan,” the researchers wrote.
The results showed that the level of our political discourse had deteriorated — partly because of Trump.
“Speeches by past presidents while on campaign and the Gettysburg Address were at least at the eighth grade level,” the paper read. “The candidates’ speeches mostly went from seventh grade level for Donald Trump to tenth grade level for Bernie Sanders.”
The researchers also tried to measure “the degree to which the candidate changes their choice of words from one speech to another.” The result appeared to confirm the perception of Hillary Clinton as a chameleon.
“[Change] could reflect an effort to take into account the different audiences or circumstances (winning or concession speech in a state, for example),” they wrote. “We can see that Hilary Clinton has the highest standard deviation and so the biggest change of choice of words from one speech to another, while Ted Cruz varies the least in his choices.”
Up next was a look at politicians’ grammar.
“We see that George W. Bush had the lowest level and Abraham Lincoln the highest,” the paper read. “Amongst the candidates, levels are between sixth and seventh grades except for Donald Trump (grade 5.7).”
A summary of the study put this result in another light. The linguistic top of the pops, it turned out, was the Gettysburg Address — which came from the pen of a man with little formal schooling.
“In terms of grammar, none of the presidents and presidential candidates could compare with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — an admittedly high standard, with grammar well above the 10th grade level,” the summary read. “The current candidates generally had scores between 6th and 7th grades, with Trump just below 6th grade level. President Bush scored at a 5th grade level.”
The researchers, who used a measure of readability meant to account for differences between written and spoken language, noted that evaluating public speakers is not easy.
“Assessing the readability of campaign speeches is a little tricky because most measures are geared to the written word, yet text is very different from the spoken word,” Eskenazi said in a statement. “When we speak, we usually use less structured language with shorter sentences.”
Trump, for one, seems to intuit that many of his supporters are not grammarians.
“I love the poorly educated!” he said last month.
attribution: Monty Python
As Americans brace themselves for the “soft sensuality” of Trump’s inauguration and presidency, more and more details about how we got ourselves into this precarioussituation have come to light—each more disturbing than the last.
If even half of the allegations found in the (classified?) dossier assembled by a formerBritish spy turn out to be true, it would mean that, not only did Vladimir Putin helpTrump get elected, he’s now got Trump by the balls, so to speak.
Bottom line: We are so fucked.
Meet the Press: Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA); Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).
Face The Nation: Vice President-Elect Mike Pence; Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); David Ignatius (Washington Post); Roundtable: John Heilemann (Bloomberg Politics), Ruth Marcus (Washington Post), Ben Domenech (The Federalist) & Ed O’Keefe (Washington Post).
This Week: Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT); Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT); Former Obama Chief Ethics Lawyer Norman Eisen & Former Bush Chief Ethics Lawyer Richard Painter; Roundtable: Democratic Pollster Cornell Belcher, Republican Strategist Sara Fagen, Jonathan Karl (ABC News), Bill Kristol (Weekly Standard) & Katrina vanden Heuvel (The Nation).
Fox News Sunday: Vice President-Elect Mike Pence; CIA Director John Brennan; Roundtable: Gerald F. Seib (Wall Street Journal), Former Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA); Republican Strategist Lisa Boothe & Bob Woodward (Washington Post).
State of the Union: Outgoing White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Roundtable: Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), Marc Morial (National Urban League), Former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner (D) & Spokesman for Jeff Sessions Sarah Isgur Flores.
Late night shows:
Monday: Actress Sarah Paulson; Actor Corey Stoll; Musical Artist Nick Grant feat. Watch the Duck.
Tuesday: Comedian Billy Eichner; Singer Mel B; Comedian Gilbert Gottfried.
Wednesday: Guests TBA.
Thursday: Guests TBA.
Friday: Guests TBA.
Monday: David Fahrenthold (Washington Post), Actor Bryshere Gray; Tuesday: Co-Founder of Lyft John Zimmer; Wednesday: US Ambasador to the UN Samantha Power; Thursday: Journalist Scott Conroy, Actor James McAvoy; Friday: Joy Ann Reid (MSNBC).
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) equated Mexican entertainers with Russian hackers.
A Texas lawmaker on the House intelligence committee says it wasn’t just the Russians who interfered in last year’s election.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, is comparing the use of Mexican entertainers to energize Democratic voters to the email hacking that officials say was orchestrated by Vladimir Putin’s government.
“Harry Reid and the Democrats brought in Mexican soap opera stars, singers and entertainers who had immense influence in those communities into Las Vegas, to entertain, get out the vote and so forth,” Conaway told The Dallas Morning News this week. “Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada. You don’t hear the Democrats screaming and saying one word about that.”
Asked whether he considers that on par with Russian cyber-intrusions that aimed to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Conaway said: “Sure it is, it’s foreign influence. If we’re worried about foreign influence, let’s have the whole story.”
And, to bring this post back full circle…
An applicant to be Trump’s White House Press Secretary reportedly suggested pee-testing the press corps.
One proposal on dealing with the media that was pitched to President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team calls for drug testing the White House press corps.
The pee-in-a-cup proposal (yellow journalism indeed) was one of 13 ideas one candidate for White House press secretary wrote in November in a confidential memo to members of the Presidential Transition Team’s Executive Committee.
“Journalists who are at the White House more than one day per week should be subject to drug screenings to occur no more than twice a year at random times,” the memo states. “Refusal to comply should exclude them from credentialing entirely.”
The Trump administration, the candidate wrote, “should clear a path to communicate more directly with the people and end White House press practices that serve no useful purpose other than feeding the beast.”
Yellow journalism, indeed.