Government shutdown, week four. Diane talks to longtime political analyst Norm Ornstein, one of the most prolific chroniclers of Washington's descent into partisan dysfunction.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Early this week, 50 national security experts from Republican administrations signed an open letter denouncing Donald Trump as a danger to the nation. Then, Trump sparked new firestorms by suggesting action against Hillary Clinton by “second-amendment people” and claiming that President Barack Obama founded ISIS. Developments like these are fueling a debate in many newsrooms across the country: how to cover Donald Trump. Some editors and reporters argue that if you believe Trump is a dangerous demagogue, normal journalistic standards of objectivity need not apply. Trump says mainstream news organizations are biased against him, and many supporters agree. Guest host Susan Page and her guests discuss how the media covers Donald Trump.
- Michael Hirsh National editor, Politico; author of “Capital Offense: How Washington’s Wise Men Turned America’s Future over to Wall Street"
- Margaret Sullivan Media columnist, The Washington Post
- Ben Domenech Publisher of the Federalist, a center-right web magazine of politics and culture
- Stephen Moore Chief economist, The Heritage Foundation; senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Nonpartisan fact checkers have awarded and unprecedented number of pants on fire and Pinocchios to Donald Trump for statements he's made during the presidential campaign. Politifact examined questionable assertions by him and Hillary Clinton. It concluded that 60 percent of Trump's statements were false, compared with 13 percent of Clinton's.
MS. SUSAN PAGESome editors and reporters are asking what that means for the way they cover the GOP presidential nominee. Joining me in the studio to talk about objectivity and fairness in reporting on Donald Trump, Michael Hirsh of Politico magazine, Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post and Ben Domenech of The Federalist. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. MICHAEL HIRSHThank you.
MR. BEN DOMENECHGood to be with you.
MS. MARGARET SULLIVANThanks.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation during this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Michael Hirsh, let's start with you. How would you describe Donald Trump's relationship with the news media that cover him?
HIRSHExtremely bad. You know, obviously, he's made a point of constantly attacking the media, what the right term's the mainstream media for its supposed slant and banning major media outlets from his various events in terms of not credentialing them so it has been consistently bad. And indeed, since the beginning of his candidacy has been a selling point for him with the crowds that come to his rally, that he is an enemy of the mainstream media.
PAGEYou know, Margaret, it's not unusual to hear candidates complain about their coverage by the news media. Is Donald Trump different in some way?
SULLIVANYes. You know, as Mike said, he's made it a centerpiece of his campaign, that the media is an enemy and he's used that very effectively so that it's sort of a lot of blame the messenger. So, for example, just yesterday when he identified Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as the co-founders of ISIS, you know, if that's questioned or if it's mocked or anything like that, it becomes the media's fault and it's actually been very effective for him.
SULLIVANThe other thing that's worked for him is that on the flip side of it, he's benefitted immensely from unbelievable amounts of free exposure and relatively unquestioning exposure.
PAGEYou know, Ben, actually the criticism of the press months ago was that the coverage wasn't critical enough, that he got an enormous amount of free media coverage on cable TV in particular during the primaries. Do you think the news media at this point is being fair to Donald Trump?
DOMENECHI'm not sure that I would describe it as fair, but I do think that they've woken up to the fact that they can't just air him unedited, which is the approach that a lot of the television media was using a few months ago during the primary when they had an unprecedented level of opportunity for him to just put the cameras on that podium and have it from start to finish for every rally that he was participating in. The real reason, though, behind the kind of objections I think that the American people have to the media, which are significant and have increased over the course of the past several years, have put them in a position where the level of criticism that they weigh against Trump, even when it's something as simple as saying, factually, what he's saying is false or wrong, it falling on deaf ears.
DOMENECHAnd I think that's the real problem for the media at this stage, which is that whatever you say about Trump, his supporters, the people who back him are going to largely tune out everything that comes up, every kind of criticism as being -- as coming from a position of bias as opposed to a position where you're accurately analyzing what he's saying.
PAGEWell, let's take what Margaret Sullivan just noted, which was last night at a rally, Donald Trump said that Barack Hussein Obama, he used all three of his names, was a founder of ISIS and honored by ISIS. How should reporters go about reporting that? What is the right way to report that? Let's start with you, Michael. What is the right way to report that assertion?
HIRSHI think, at this stage, it is to report what he said and to note in your story that Trump routinely misrepresents the facts. I think that he's earned that. You know, in an effort to maintain objectivity, it is now required that you note, as have all documented over the past 12 months, that he routinely misrepresents the facts when he speaks.
PAGESo do you call the White House and say, would you like to respond to the assertion that Obama is the founder of ISIS, Margaret?
SULLIVANNo. I don't think you do that, but what I think you do, and this is a practice that I'd like to see more in general in journalism and in reporting, is you say the truth. You include a sentence or two that actually in the reporters own voice and the voice of the publication says what ISIS is and what it isn't, you know, so that it's a way to get away from this he said/she said business of, well, you know, Trump said this and the White House responded that.
SULLIVANAnd reader, it's up to you. You figure it out. We can actually take that on ourselves and that's a responsibility that we should take more seriously.
PAGESo Margaret, in this particular case, what would a reporter doing his or her job write if they're covering that rally last night.
SULLIVANWell, you could have a paragraph that described or a couple of sentences that said, in fact, blah, blah, blah. You know, I can't really recite the...
PAGEIn fact, President Obama has killed many fighters of ISIS, has undertaken bombing campaigns.
SULLIVANYeah, or a sentence or two about where ISIS actually came from.
DOMENECHUm-hum, al Baghdadi, obviously, is a real person and is -- there is a founder of ISIS. I think, though, the difference here is that you have a media group of people who are split between reporters who are covering the campaign and commentators who are coming in and offering their opinions. The real reason that I feel like the Republicans and supporters of Donald Trump are tuning those folks out is that they are combining the two and they're looking back at what commentators were saying about Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates and basically saying, well, you said he was a terrible person, too. Why should I listen to you now about Donald Trump?
SULLIVANAnd I think that when we talk about the media, that actually, again, works very well for Trump. He's lumping in a lot of, you know, what is the media? Is the media CNN? Is it the New York Times? Is it The Federalist? Is it the National Enquirer? What is it? But those distinctions aren't drawn. And is it a hard news reporter or is it a Eugene Robinson, you know? What is that? And so it's very easy, I think, to take a sort of a caricature or cartoon and to make it out to be something evil. And I would also add that in my conversations -- and I was at both conventions. I had the opportunity to talk to some Trump delegates and supporters.
SULLIVANThey are really not very receptive to the idea that, oh, well, you know, he was factually incorrect on this. And what they will come back and say almost always is, you people don't pay attention to Hillary's lies. You want to talk about Trump's lies, but you never talk about how she constantly lies.
PAGEAnd that is certainly a very common complaint that we get every time we do a story that is critical of Trump. Or, you know, I wouldn't say it's critical of Trump, but a story that tries to put in context, does fact-checking, challenges some of the statements he said. It's not meant to criticize Trump. It's meant to do analysis and context for it.
HIRSHYeah, I mean, look, it's just not true. I mean, when we do the Pinocchios, as you noted in the opening, they count up how many, you know, Hillary's got versus Trump, he's got more. On the eve of the Democratic Convention, as an example, at Politico magazine, we did a big piece by Todd Purdum on how long Hillary's been fudging the truth going all the way back to the Rose Law Firm, okay, which should've made people on the right happy. I mean, I think that we do address these issues pretty even handily, it's just that Trump comes out on the worst side because he appears to misrepresent the truth more often.
PAGEBen, do you think the press is tougher, the news media, are tougher on Trump than they are on Clinton?
DOMENECHI think they are, but I don't think that it's undeserved. I mean, I think this is a situation where you have someone who is a lot more willing to stretch the truth and say things that are factually questionable and say things that are designed to get a rile out of people. One of the things we know about Donald Trump and that we've known for decades, even before he got into politics, is that he thinks every headline is a good headline, even if it's a critical one. The difference is that, I think, right now, he's playing up to his advantage, the fact that Republican voters, that the people who are largely supporting him, have attitude for the news media that is driven by their past experience and that puts everyone in the same category.
DOMENECHSo you can look back at the words that were used about Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, which included things like saying the he was evil, that he was anti-immigrant, that he was anti-woman, that he was unfit for office. And those were things that were said in the New York Times, not in some, you know, sort of fringe publication. And so when someone comes along who actually may qualify as being any number of those things, the fact that you're using the same terms, using the same rhetoric around him, allows the people who are supporting Trump to basically tune it all out and say, well, you just say that about everybody who's right of center.
SULLIVANSusan, the other thing I would note is that people have a kind of a little bit of a twisted idea, I think, of how the press is covering Clinton. You know, everyone -- many Trump people will say that The Washington Post is in the tank for Clinton and their coverage is very biased. The Post lead the paper just two days ago, I think, with a really tough piece about Hillary Clinton's record when she was the senator in New York State and she had promised 200,000 new jobs that never materialized. So, you know, I think that there are actually -- are a lot of stories like that.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break and when we come back, we'll be talking to a senior economic advisor to the Trump campaign about his experiences and whether he thinks the news media are unfair to Donald Trump and we'll take your calls and questions. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking this hour about the challenges to journalists who are covering Donald Trump. And we're joined now for a few minutes by phone by Stephen Moore. He's chief economist at The Heritage Foundation and a senior economic advisor to the Trump campaign. Stephen Moore, thank you for joining us.
MR. STEPHEN MOOREHi, Susan.
PAGENow, tell us, do you think that the news media treat Donald Trump fairly?
MOOREI think that's almost a trick question, of course. Of course, it doesn't. And it's been -- and I've been in the political game and also in journalism for 30 years and I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this, I don't know in American history, but certainly not in the last 30 years. And I guess I would -- I'm sort of distraught about it, I mean, for two reasons. One is that I think the incredible media piling on against Donald Trump -- that he's a racist, a xenophobe, I've heard him called fascist and these kinds of things -- are obviously hurtful to the campaign.
MOOREI think this should be a campaign -- we've got such gigantic problems in this country. I mean, we've got so many unemployed people. We've got a world that seems to be aflame in violence and terrorism. We've got, you know, problems with our schools. We've got problems with crime on the street. And all the media wants to do is attack Donald Trump -- not even his ideas. We just put out, Susan, on Monday, a major economic program that's going to -- that is designed to deal with these problems of unemployment, and (word?) and the press paid almost no attention to that. But they paid a lot of attention to this comment about the Second Amendment.
PAGEYou know, Stephen, that's a fair point. Because I think that to some degree coverage of the economic plan got superseded when he made the comment about Second Amendment people and the possibility of taking action. What -- a lot of people heard that and thought that was a call to violence. How did -- what did you think he was saying?
MOORELook, I, you know, I was saying the other day, you know, when I was on Fox last week, I said, you know, in November, we're going to kill Hillary Clinton. And I had to say, you know, actually I'm talking figuratively here, not literally. I, look, every American knows that what Donald Trump meant was that the NRA is one of the most powerful political groups in America and that, if Hillary tries to, you know, put ultra-liberal people on the court, that the NRA will, you know, have, you know, a political reaction to that.
MOOREBut here's the point. I mean, look, there's no arguing that it's been -- and, you know, Susan, you've been in the business a long time, and I don't think anybody could deny that the press -- most people in the press hate Donald Trump. And by the way, The New York Times had a piece this weekend basically saying, we have to stop even pretending that we're neutral here, because Donald Trump is such a menace and so dangerous to the country, that we have to do everything we have -- can to stop him. I mean, that was The New York Times saying that.
MOORENow, here's the point, I think there's two problems with this. One is it's just not fair. And number two, I think who it does real damage to is the media. I think, you know, look, I worked in the newspaper business, as you do. I worked for The Wall Street Journal. It's a tough time to be in the newspaper business. You know, fewer and fewer people are buying newspapers. Fewer and fewer people are watching NBC and ABC and CBS. And it's precisely because a big, big portion of the population thinks that it's not news anymore, that it is total commentary.
MOOREAnd I -- so I think, you know, you all in the media have to think about, what is this doing to our brand? Nobody's going to believe a thing the USA Today says or The Wall Street Journal front page says or The New York Times, because it's all political commentary.
PAGEDo you know, Stephen, I wonder though if it's important. It seems to me it's important to make a distinction between editorials...
PAGE...and commentary, which might call Donald Trump...
PAGE...a fascist, and news coverage, which I think does not call -- I don't think mainstream news outlets like USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, call Donald Trump a fascist, casually, in their news coverage. Do you think the news coverage has been unfair?
MOOREYeah. You know, that's my point. Look, I worked for the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. So, you know, when you're on the editorial board, you're writing opinion. My point is, the front page of USA Today, The New York Times, Washington Post, is not news anymore, it is opinion and it's commentary. You know, I was reading The New York Times. I mean, The New York Times has been by far the worst, so maybe that's -- but it's an important newspaper.
MOOREI read the Sunday New York Times last Sunday. There were nine articles that were critical of Donald Trump. And by the way, they weren't even -- a lot of them weren't even on the news page. Some of them were in the style section, the theater section, I mean, everything was just trashing Donald Trump. And it's so excessive that, again, I think the media is -- really has to question itself about whether this kind of coverage is doing serious damage to its credibility with the whole -- I know conservatives who say, I'll never read the USA Today anymore, The New York Times anymore, The Washington Post anymore.
MOOREAnd it's what's leading to, you know, I've heard a lot of liberals say the problem is, you know, all conservatives are watching Fox and all liberals are watching MSNBC. And, you know, part of what's leading to that is we, as conservatives, don't think we get a fair shake in the mainstream media.
PAGEAnd Stephen Moore, let me just ask you one more question, because I know your time is short here. These, the fact checker features -- there's one in The Washington Post, there's one that's run at the Annenberg Center, there's one that's...
PAGE...done at Poynter -- have been enormously critical of misstatements that they say Donald Trump has made. Do you think those have been fair?
MOOREI'm sorry. I'm not sure what you're referring to.
PAGEWell, there was, for instance, an analysis by PolitiFact that said 60 percent of the questionable assertions that Donald Trump had made were inaccurate. These fact checkers, who generally have been pretty tough...
PAGE...on the accuracy of his statements. Do you think those have been fair?
MOOREYeah. No, well, I know a couple of them, like PolitiFact, is that one?
PAGEYes. That's one of them.
MOOREI think that's one of them. I mean it was like Political Fact is supposed to be checking the facts. And, you know, at least half the time I find that they get the facts wrong themselves, which is very frustrating. And so, yeah, this is -- but, you know, I think what we're going to do, frankly, in the Trump campaign is really start making the media a major issue in this campaign and just, you know, taking it right to the media and saying, you can't trust a word these people say anymore. They are so hostile to me.
MOOREAnd I actually think, look, you know, Susan, you're in the media business, that the -- that what is the approval rating of the media now? It's -- the numbers are terrible. People don't believe what you're saying and it's precisely because of the bias that is being reported. Somebody just mentioned, right before I was on this -- I think it was a Washington Post story on Hillary's record in New York. And I have to say, that was one of the few articles, I was like, wow, that's amazing. That's the first -- a good, factual thing where Hillary said she was going to raise 200,000 jobs. Instead, the states lost, you know, a half a million jobs. You know, I'd love to see more of those, just for the sake of balance.
PAGEAll right. Stephen Moore, thank you so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MOOREThanks. Thank you, Susan.
MOOREStephen Moore, he's chief economist at The Heritage Foundation and a senior economic advisor to the Trump campaign. So, Margaret, what do you make of what Stephen Moore said?
SULLIVANWell, I'd like to do some real-time fact checking of Stephen Moore. One thing is that he said that the media paid very little attention to Trump's economic plan. That's untrue. I mean, it was on the front page of The Washington Post. It was very -- it was played up everywhere. So, you know, that sounds great but is not the case. Also he mentioned that The New York Times has decided that there's no such thing as objectivity. I mean, that's simply not true. Jim Rutenberg, who writes a media column for The Times, wrote a very nuanced, you know, very smart piece about whether we need to be doing our jobs differently. It didn't say, let's abandon journalistic ethics and attack Trump. So, you know, those characterizations are just not true.
SULLIVANAnd I'm afraid that Stephen Moore is taking his cues from Donald Trump and just saying things that aren't the case. And I think they ought to be challenged.
PAGEYou know, one thing he said that is true is that the approval ratings for the media are low and that this whole debate does, to some readers and listeners, undermine their faith in the news media. And that is an effect that we're going to have, whatever happens on election day, I think this is something we're going to -- as a reporter, as members of the news media -- we're going to have to be dealing with for some time to come.
HIRSHLook, I think it's only going to get worse. And the fact is that what the media does is report, and has been for 12 months, on what Trump says. Trump made his big speech on Monday. And then he followed it the day -- a day later with a quote, unquote "joke" about Second Amendment people, supporters, doing violence against Hillary Clinton. And it plainly was that and the whole idea that, because people tend to forget that he followed that comment by saying that that would be horrible day. Okay? So he clearly was referring to assassination. So that is a big story and we have to cover it.
HIRSHAnd now, the story, frankly, is becoming his fitness for office. And it's not that the "media," quote, unquote, is raising these issues, it's people like Michael Morell, the former acting head of the CIA, it's people like Senator Susan Collins, a Republican senator, who are writing op-eds and saying they cannot vote for Trump and will come out for Hillary. And we have to cover that. Okay? So the issue of Trump's fitness, even his mental soundness, is not something we're making up. We are covering what is happening on this campaign.
DOMENECHSo as we are talking right now, Donald Trump has actually just gone on the radio and attacked one of our senior writers at The Federalist, Mary Katharine Ham, who was one of the moderators at an ABC debate earlier in the primary. He was asked, apparently, about a half an hour ago, about her potentially being one of the moderators at a presidential debate later on. Said that he is not a fan. That she is very unfair to him. That he -- that they should cross her name off of any list. The funny thing about that is that after that ABC debate, he actually came up to her and told her that she did a great job.
DOMENECHIt seemed to me the sort of -- it seems to me the sort of thing that Trump does is he takes every little bit of analysis that a reporter or a journalist or a commentator does of him, and anything negative -- even if you could say positive things in other instances, even if you say, you know, on other points that he's accurate or that he's saying, you know, something that is worth saying -- if you say anything negative to him, his skin is so thin that he views you as being an opponent, an enemy, someone who could never be fair to him.
DOMENECHAnd I think that that's something that is true of Trump, that hasn't been true of previous nominees from either party. They understand that the media is going to be critical of them where they err, and is going to be positive when they may say something that, you know, is fitting or that fits the zeitgeist of the time. And that's something that I think Trump, as a first-time-around politician, simply doesn't understand.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let our listeners join this conversation. Let's go first to Ed. He's calling us from Orlando. Ed, you're on the air.
EDHi, Susan. Thanks for taking my call.
EDI have a state -- yes, statement and a question. This program has been talking about objectivity in the media. Another term that came across my sphere recently was this notion of false equivalency. And there was an article that went across mediamatters.org that talked about how the media has this doctrine of treating each candidate on a fair playing field, giving them level and, you know, objective coverage. But this notion of false equivalency is, you know, these two candidates are really quite different. And you pointed out the 60 percent PolitiFact thing for Trump versus 13 for Hillary. They're not equivalent, right? So I just would like to give a shout out to that article on mediamatters.org about false equivalency and would like to hear your comments about that.
EDAnd then my question was, I'm a Hillary supporter. As you mentioned, I'm in Orlando. And I'm planning to attend the Kissimmee rally tonight. And my motivation for going is to see firsthand, with my own eyes, what a rally is like. Because all I have is what the media is telling me of what these rallies are. And the media is telling me these rallies are filled with intolerant, you know, rabble-rousing, rough handling people. And I want to see what that's like in person. And so I wanted to just see if you had any suggestions for me to what to look out for, to...
PAGESo we'll talk about what you should look out for. But just very quickly, what do you want to look for? What would you like to see there?
EDWhat I'd like to see is respect. I'd like to see people who are passionate about what they believe, but that realize that, you know, this is a free country and everyone is entitled to their opinion. That means me. You know, if I am a Hillary supporter at a Trump rally, you know, I'm not going to be made to feel like a threat and, or anything like that, you know? Like, I can only...
PAGEWell, are you going to make it clear you're a Hillary supporter? Are you going to wear a Hillary t-shirt or carry a Hillary banner?
EDNo, I'm not. I'm just going to wear standard business attire. The only Hillary supporter is I have a Hillary bumper sticker on my car. So I'm wondering to see if I'm going to get some nasty notes or something less than like on my car, you know? That's the only Hillary thing. I'm not going to come out and say it.
PAGEYeah. Okay. Ed, thanks so much for your call. Margaret.
SULLIVANWell, I -- Ed's comments are great. I would suggest that he get a nice red hat that says, make American great again, if he wants to do his undercover work. But, you know, good luck on that. And I think that the fact that at these rallies -- and I was in Cleveland and Philadelphia -- but, you know, the fact that at the Republican National Convention, these chants of lock her up and put her on the firing line are extremely disturbing.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to Ed's original point, which was this issue of false equivalency. You know, this is something that the news media was criticized for in the debate over climate change, that you'd quote somebody who said it was real and then you'd quote somebody who said it wasn't real, when in fact the preponderance of scientific evidence is that it's real. Is there a false equivalency do you think, Ben, in coverage of Hillary Clinton?
DOMENECHI think that, when it comes to Hillary, there is a degree of defensiveness about her simply because she is a typical, traditional politician, in the sense that if you have someone who is a very atypical, you know, sort of historically unique politician running against someone who is more traditional and more polished, then there's a natural bias, I think, on the part of anyone analyzing those two people to say that the more conventional is something we're comfortable with.
DOMENECHThe truth is that Hillary Clinton has actually had a very contentious relationship with the media, that she's had a history of getting into it with them in a lot of different circumstances and viewing them as an enemy that is unfair to her, where, you know, and that is something that is kind of the odd thing about this cycle, that you have two candidates who both view themselves as being treated unfairly by most media outlets. The truth is that I think that she gets a little bit more of a fair shake simply because she is a traditional candidate, that there's a little bit more of a treatment of her as being something that's conventional and understood, where Trump is radically different.
DOMENECHThe problem is that this is a time when the American people largely view the country as being on the wrong track, where they want dramatic change. And in the change election, selling the conventional becomes a little bit more hard. It becomes, you know, a status quo situation. And so the irony of it is that I think, for a lot of supporters, and the commentariat in the media depicting Hillary as being sort of a status quo, conventional politician, actually undermines her and puts her in a position that she may not to be in November.
PAGEYou know, at least we have a template for covering a candidate like Hillary Clinton, unlike a candidate like Donald Trump. You know, we started the show, Michael Hirsh, by asking what Donald Trump's relationship with the press is like. How would you characterize Hillary Clinton's relationship with the news media that cover her?
HIRSHI mean, Ben had it exactly right. I mean, I guess a big boon for her of the Trump candidacy is that, you know, a lot of people have stopped commenting on that, that in the absence of Trump, she has had this terrible relationship. In fact, you know, one of the issues that the mainstream media has brought up, if you will, is that she's held very few news conferences.
PAGENo news conference since December.
HIRSHRight. And there's a reason for that because, you know, her email situation, the controversy over the State Department server, she wants to avoid those questions probably. And so that's out there. You know, it's not that we ignore that. But I mean to get back to the false equivalents issue, I think, if anything, the media has probably been guilty of too much false equivalent. Steve Coll of The New Yorker had a comments piece the other day in which he sort of called out the media for reporting on Trump's statements as sort of provocative or unprecedented, without calling him out on his misstatement of facts. And I think, if anything, we've been guilty of that. So I think we should actually be tougher on Trump than we already have been.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the comment in an article in the Columbia Journalism Review the other day, that this is a Murrow moment for American journalism. And we'll go back to the phones. Give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio this hour, Margaret Sullivan, Media Columnist with the Washington Post. Ben Domenech, Publisher of The Federalist, a center/right web magazine of politics and culture. And Michael Hirsh, National Editor of Politico Magazine. He's author of "Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street." And we're going to take your calls and questions. Let's go to Amy from Falls Church, Virginia. She's been patient holding on. Hi Amy.
AMYHi. Thanks for taking my call. My question is -- you've gone over several times about Trump having 60 percent untrue statements, Clinton with 13 percent untrue statements. I'm curious if there is or ever has been a zero percent politician.
PAGEA zero percent politician. That is one who never, never gets a Pinocchio, never gets pants on fire. Who can answer that? Is there a zero percent?
SULLIVANI think Jimmy Carter, probably, was...
DOMENECHA little too honest for his own good.
SULLIVAN...he told us what was in his heart, but look what happened to him.
HIRSHI mean, I don't think that there ever has been an instance and the fact is that some of the greatest Presidents in American history were known for dissembling. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a master at not saying what he was thinking, particularly in the lead up to World War II, where he was giving the impression, you know, to the American people, that he had no intention of getting involved while he was actively getting involved with (unintelligible) and other types of initiatives.
HIRSHSo, honesty is a good thing. In politics, it seems to be a rare thing. And I think that while it isn't an issue, -- it is an issue, I don't think you can judge a candidate solely on that basis.
PAGEOf course, there's a difference between a systemic and calculated misstatement that's designed to make a point. And the kind of casual misstatement that, you know, frankly, we all probably make at some point, that is subject to correction. I think, probably, voters make a distinction between that too.
DOMENECHYou know, one of the other things, too, is simply that, you know, you were talking about the fact that Hillary Clinton has taken so few press conferences, has been so insulated from a lot of these questions, you know, herself. It was amusing to me to see a couple of weeks back the news conference where Donald Trump essentially spent the entire press conference bashing the media. And then, the last question to him was what he thought about Harambe, the gorilla, and he actually went on like a -- he answered it. He went on a sort of lengthy discourse about -- about this.
DOMENECHAnd it is kind of a distinction between the way that conventional politicians act, where they will respond to, you know, questions that are in their line of pursuit, and someone like Donald Trump, who is, who is, seems willing to take any question about anything at any time, because he has opinions about everything that he's willing to share with you.
PAGEYou know, we have a real time fact check from a listener here. This listener writes, your guest inaccurately stated that Susan Collins, a Senator from Maine, is supporting Clinton over Trump. When directly asked if she would support Clinton, Collins said she would not support Clinton because she wasn't satisfied with Clinton's answers to Congress regarding her private email server. That is a correct depiction of what Senator Collins said. And she said she -- she might vote for Gary Johnson, she'd vote for William Weld if he was at the top of that ticket.
PAGESo, whoever, the listener who sent that in, thank you very much for that fact check. Here's an email from Madelyn, who writes, shouldn't we look back to the example of Edward R. Murrow, who dealt with the demagogue Joseph McCarthy. Those were dangerous times and Murrow prevailed. And this is very much along the lines of an article in the Columbia Journalism Review calling this a Murrow moment. Margaret, tell us what the reference is to Edward R. Murrow.
SULLIVANThe reference is to a time in American history when the -- when McCarthyism was happening. And Murrow called it out and he went beyond the bounds of traditional, sort of, neutrality and, you know, the media not expressing opinion to say that this was unacceptable. And so, the implication is that as some sort of unified force, the media should say Donald Trump cannot be President. That it's that kind of a moment that there needs to be a stepping out of a neutral pose and into calling a spade a spade.
PAGEDo you think this is a Murrow moment?
SULLIVANWell, I, I think that, actually, we're seeing a lot of -- a lot of this. And I think it can happen in all kinds of different ways. It can happen in news stories. It can happen in opinion columns and it doesn't have to be a single moment in time. That will never come about, but I think that aggressive coverage, holding Trump accountable, holding Hillary Clinton accountable is what we should do every day as members of the press. And we need to do more of it.
DOMENECHThe difference, though, between Murrow and now is the way that the American people view the media. The majority of the American people at the time of Murrow taking that stand viewed the media positively or as a responsible entity. The most recent gallop poll that assessed the way that the American people viewed media entities was just terrible for the media. It showed 20 percent of the American people trust newspapers. And I mean, that's a situation where ironically, you know, coming out more forcefully against Donald Trump may actually lead to people tuning out that media even more.
DOMENECHViewing them as biased entities that are unfair to him and accepting this, this view that Trump likes to espouse, that no one treats him fairly. I think that the difference is that they have gotten so attuned to listening to the media criticize people who agree with them on a handful of things, that they now view all of that criticism as being questionable and not fair. The sad fact is that I think, you know, the people who are very critical of candidates of Mitt Romney, who depicted him as misogynist or who depicted him as anti-immigrant, et cetera.
DOMENECHNow, when they're confronted with someone who may actually be those things, none of those criticisms really land anymore.
HIRSHYou know, I agree with Ben. The times are just too different, I think, really, to make comparisons. That Murrow moment, as you called it, led to a famous moment on TV, which was a new medium in 1954, when a lawyer called out, named Joseph Wells, called out McCarthy for his cruelty, saying, you know, have you no decency, at long last? Which became a very famous moment in American history. You couldn't duplicate that now, because, you know, you had like 10 or 20 million Americans watching on this new medium, seeing McCarthy as he really was for the first time, really.
HIRSHRather than just seeing his words in newspaper articles. So, it was a very, very unusual time. McCarthy went swiftly downhill after that, and his moment was over. I don't really think you can recreate that now with the plethora of, you know, media outlets we have.
PAGEReally a different way people get news. Lots more options, less faith in a few single voices. Let's go to Pennsylvania and talk to Brett. Brett, where are you from? I'm not sure of the name of your town.
BRETTOut by, out by Lancaster.
PAGEAll right, thanks so much for joining us. You're on the air.
BRETTThank you very much. I've been to many events over the years. I follow politics. I listen to you and a number of other stations. And I don't believe a word coming out of you or any of the mainstream media, as it's called. I've seen -- I've been at Tea Party events where the cameras from the big networks pointed in the opposite directions, implying there was nobody there. And eventually, I concluded lied about what happened. I -- you've just lost, lost it with us.
BRETTWhen Reid accused Romney of not paying his taxes, did they go after Reid saying, where's your proof? Show us. No. They went after Romney on something so silly, everybody knew that was false. But I just wanted to thank you and the good service that NPR -- Diane Rehm and NPR does that you validate everything Rush Limbaugh says about the left wing. And you progressives. You are the best advertisement for Rush Limbaugh's correctness. I thank you very much.
PAGEBut Brett, Brett, if you think that, why are you listening?
BRETTBecause I like to hear what the enemy is thinking. And sometimes, you do have people on -- usually, you have it four to one against people on the right, but sometimes you do have a good person on the right. And some of the other shows that you do. But with your political shows, you are definitely left leaning. I mean, just the phrases that are being used on this show right now show that.
PAGEOkay, Brett. Thank you so much for your call. We appreciate hearing your point of view. I just know that on this show, in particular, we have a conservative media figure here, Ben. And we've made great efforts to get a voice from the Trump campaign to join us, although he wasn't able to join us for the full hour. But we certainly heard, Margaret, with Brett's comments, the suspicion and hostility that some Trump supporters, at least, feel toward the news media.
SULLIVANRight. And I can, I think, speak best from my own experience. So I've been a journalist for decades. I've been the executive editor of a newspaper. And I've worked as the public editor of the New York Times and now I'm at the Washington Post. And I can tell you that the journalists I know, and this is true for me, are very interested in the truth and in being fair. And I think it's the reason that we go into this craft, this profession. We're not trying to hide anything, we're not trying to tell the story toward a political agenda.
SULLIVANIt's actually, we're very interested in saying what is true to the best of our ability. And that's my experience.
DOMENECHI want to say something to that caller who, I understand why he's saying what he's saying. But here's the biggest thing that I think he should understand about media. From my perspective, the mainstream media, the media like the journalists at the Washington Post and the New York Times. The biggest problem that they actually have when it comes to bias is cultural, it's not political. It's simply that people who go into media tend to go to similar schools and come from similar backgrounds and have similar, sort of, living patterns.
DOMENECHAnd that leads to less of an awareness of certain other things. For instance, when it comes to Brett's experience, you know, there are fewer journalists who come from white, working class Appalachia than there who go through the traditional Ivy League, you know, model of how they end up in journalism. And that just makes them a little less aware of the priorities of that culture, the importance of religious values or whatever the, you know, societal values that come from that are.
DOMENECHThere are a lot of journalists who work very hard to overcome that bubble and to work outside of the communities of people who look like them. And those tend to be the journalists who do some of the best writing that we have, including people like Eli Saslow at the Washington Post, who's won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about food stamps and about the plight of white working class America. The same types of people who helped nominate Donald Trump.
DOMENECHAnd I think that that's -- it's just another situation where the brush is too broad. You take the biases of a handful of columnists or commentators who come from similar backgrounds and have similar political perspectives, and you use it for all the media. That's the point where this breaks down and people become siloed, unwilling to listen to people who disagree with them. I'm just happy that this fellow is actually tuning in to listen to this show, because it shows that he's willing to at least put up with it for a certain amount of time.
HIRSHYeah, I mean, I really agree with that. I think that's a very acute observation, actually. It is cultural. It's not intellectual or dishonest. A lot of the best journalists do try to reach beyond their cultural upbringing, which tends to slant that way. But it is a reason why, for example, the mainstream media missed the anti-globalization backlash that we saw in both the Sanders and the Trump campaign. We're not out there. We're not really feeling the pain of lower, you know, middle class or working class Americans who are perhaps not college educated. I mean, we really missed that story.
PAGEOne fair criticism of the press in this campaign, I think, is a failure to take Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders seriously enough from the start as people who were tapping into something that was happening across the country. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls. Let's take another caller. We'll go to Cleveland, Ohio and talk to Tom. Tom, hi.
TOMYes, hi, good morning. Thanks for taking my call. Listen, I understand that journalists and the electorate, as a whole, have a very difficult time knowing how to process, let alone respond adequately, to the manipulative tactics that Mr. Trump engages in. And I understand that on some level, the story has to be what piece of dangerous lunacy came out of his mouth today? But what I would really like to see is that there are the facts and there is the evidence that the previous caller suggested, was looking for.
TOMYou know, there's a stor -- the Michael Kranish and Robert O'Harrow Jr. have documented in the Washington Post the government's racial bias case against Donald Trump and his father's company back in the 70s. David K. Johnston, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, has detailed for the Politico Trump's longstanding personal and business relationships with organized criminals and drug dealers. You know, I don't think you folks in the mainstream media, so called, are going to win over the previous caller.
TOMBut I can't help thinking that there are some Trump supporters who might be dissuaded from him if they simply knew about these stories that are out there in the press, well documented and just aren't getting covered. Because it's always about what did he say today? And I'll take my call off the air. Thanks.
PAGETom, thanks very much for your call. Margaret Sullivan.
SULLIVANWell Tom is very well read, and that's appreciated. And I wish more people were as widely read as he clearly is. But, you know, I do think that in addition to what he's talking about, Trump voters who might read this stuff and change their minds, there's actually, still, a large number of undecided voters out there. At least 10 or 15 percent of the voting population has not made up its mind. And that's probably because they don't like either candidate very much.
SULLIVANBut the press still has plenty of work to do over the next few weeks and months in fully informing those candidates who are going to probably make the difference. So, there's a lot of work left to do.
PAGEAll right, let's take another quick call. Ashburn, Virginia. Joe, hi.
PAGEYou're on the air.
JOEThank you for taking my call.
JOEYeah, so I'm a Democrat and I'm going to vote for Hillary Clinton. But I don't feel like I'm getting a full picture of who I'm voting for. I'd like to know, you know, everything about my candidate, the good and the bad. And I don't get that from mainstream media, so lately, I've had to turn to Fox News to get a full picture. For example, about the emails yesterday, I had to listen to Fox News to get a full picture and I feel that I should be able to get that from mainstream media too. Thank you.
PAGEYeah, Joe, thanks very much for your call. Fair point, do you think, Michael, or not?
HIRSHYeah, I do think it's a fair point. Again, to get back to the initial subject of this discussion, you know, Trump and various statements that he comes out with have tended to draw all the oxygen out of the room. And while it's not true that we haven't covered the email controversy, perhaps it has been drowned out by the various Trump controversies.
PAGEHere's an email from Dan. He writes, hyperbole is not new in American marketing. Is Donald Trump's claim of 50 percent ownership in real estate when there's really only 30 percent any different than Wonder Bread claiming it builds strong bodies 12 ways? Trump is a business, and his supporters are not concerned about facts and truth as much as his message of American exceptionalism.
DOMENECHHe is, he is a wonderful salesman. That is his job, it's the way that he's approached this campaign. It was enough to win him the primary. I think that the difference is that once you start seeing people as potentially being the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief, a lot of the threshold for these things increases in the sense that you expect a higher degree of responsibility. To the point about Hillary's emails, the problem, really, that we have with these two candidates and the reason I think that they are so generally unpopular.
DOMENECHYou know, against each other, is that there aspects of both that are very irresponsible, in their history, in their performance in the past, and that's, I think, why a lot of people have questions.
PAGEI must also say I'm shocked to learn that Wonder Bread does not build strong bodies 12 ways, as someone who was raised on Wonder Bread. Well, let me thank our panel for being with us this hour. Ben Domenech from the Federalist, Margaret Sullivan from the Washington Post, Michael Hirsh from Politico Magazine. Thanks so much for being with us.
SULLIVANThanks very much.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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