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Christina Wilkie   |   September 27, 2016    1:14 AM ET

There’s been an intense focus on fact-checking in the 2016 presidential race lately, and whether or not the truth can be reasserted effectively in what’s becoming what some refer to as a “post-truth” election

This focus on fact-checking sharpened considerably in the run-up to Monday night’s first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York ― so much so that the debate’s moderator, NBC News’ Lester Holt, found himself drowning in demands that he serve as an able-bodied avatar for truth and justice.

But whether or not a robust, real-time fact-check was even possible, it was clear after the dust had settled that verification would have likely added another 90 minutes to the proceedings, as there ended up being a flurry of disputable claims that needed to be sifted and sorted through after it was all over.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Republican nominee Donald Trump offered up the lion’s share of falsehoods and disprovable claims. But a deeper analysis of the evening revealed that his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, largely avoided the same fate by keeping her answers rooted in airy principles and generalized policy ideas, conveniently devoid of factual claims. She tends to indicate a policy target and stress the importance of hitting it, rather than endeavoring to “show the work” of how that can be achieved.

Trump, on the other hand, wants to actively create the mirror image of a debate performance that’s long on facts and figures ― it’s just that those “facts” are often anything but.

If the brash businessmen would forego repeating previously debunked claims and well-publicized lies, he might cut down on the number of demonstrably false things he says. But Monday was not that day. In this first debate, teleprompter-free Trump returned to some of his classics.

It’s hard to imagine what could bring about a change in tactics from the orange-tinted boy King. But if it’s this edition of debate fact-check that does the trick, then we’ll let you know. 

In the meanwhile, here’s our official compendium of incorrection and misdirection ― spanning glib pronouncements that don’t tell the whole truth, statements that avoid the truth entirely and instances in which Trump didn’t even know what he didn’t know. 


Trump: “Our jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico.”

The truth is mixed: The Los Angeles Times’ Matalie Kitroeff reports that Mexico’s manufacturing boom isn’t having an entirely deleterious effect on American jobs:

U.S. manufacturing production, it turns out, is rising as well. Factory output has nearly reached its all-time high this year, and is up more than 30% since 2009.

Partly thanks to automation, factory jobs are still way off from their peak of more than 19 million in 1979. But they have been climbing slowly since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. Over the last six years, U.S. manufacturers hired 744,000 new workers, an uptick of 6%.

Trump: “Under my plan, I’ll be reducing taxes tremendously, from 35 percent to 15 percent for companies, small and big businesses. That’s going to be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan.”

Not really! According to the Tax Foundation, enacting this plan would be enormously bad:

If fully enacted, the proposal would reduce federal revenue by $4.4 trillion over the next decade on a static basis under the higher-rate assumption, or $5.9 trillion under the lower-rate assumption (Table 4). The plan would reduce individual income tax revenue by $2.2 trillion over the next decade under the higher-rate assumption, or $3.7 trillion under the lower-rate assumption.

Trump: “Ford is leaving, you see that. Their small car division — thousands of jobs, leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio.”

Wrong: Ford signed a deal with the major car workers union, the United Auto Workers, and has pledged that the smaller cars being made in Mexico will have no effect on U.S. workers. The workers now making the small cars will transition to making big cars for Ford.  

Trump: “Thousands of jobs are leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio.”

Not true: The unemployment rate in these two states is 4.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. The national rate is 4.9 percent.

Trump: “My father gave me a very small loan in 1975.”
Counter-claim: Clinton said Trump’s loan was for $14 million.

The reality: The actual figures are hard to track, because his father, Fred Trump, divided some $20 million between his kids in his will and set up additional trusts. But more importantly, Trump inherited his father’s entire business and before his death, he traded on his dad’s connections to win all sorts of breaks and favors. As The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported, “Trump’s father — whose name had been besmirched in New York real estate circles after investigations into windfall profits and other abuses in his real estate projects — was an essential silent partner in Trump’s initiative. In effect, the son was the front man, relying on his father’s connections and wealth, while his Fred Trump stood silently in the background to avoid drawing attention to himself.”

Additionally, when Trump’s casino business went belly up, his father stepped in with an illegal $3.35 million bailout ― financed through casino chips.

Trump: “The wealthy are going create tremendous jobs. They’re going to expand their companies. They’re going to do a tremendous job.”

Wrong: Rich people tend to hang on to their money and invest it. The people who spend money, and who drive the economy, buy goods from small businesses and create jobs, are the middle class and the working poor.

Clinton: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.” Trump replied, “I did not. I did not. I do not say that.”


Trump: “The Obama administration, from the time they’ve come in, is over 230 years’ worth of debt, and he’s topped it. He’s doubled it in a course of almost eight years, seven-and-a-half years, to be semi- exact.”

Hardly: The phrase “semi-exact” is the only thing that makes this true. Even dyed in the wool deficit scolds don’t hold President Barack Obama solely responsible for the debt. Per Politifact:

[Concord Coalition executive director Robert] Bixby; Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget; and Rudolph Penner, a fellow at the Urban Institute and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, told us:

1. About half of the $19 trillion was amassed before Obama took office in January 2009. 

2. Obama took office amid a deep recession, which meant government revenues fell and spending on government programs rose.

“The debt would have exploded certainly during (Obama’s) first term, no matter who was president,” said Bixby.

3. Obama proposed federal budgets, but Congress, including the Republican leadership, ultimately holds the purse strings.

“Attributing the debt to a president doesn’t make sense,” MacGuineas said.

Trump: “See, you’re telling the enemy everything you want to do. No wonder you’ve been fighting ― no wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.”

Not so much: Clinton is 68 years old. The ISIS, or the self-styled Islamic State, began in 2014. 

Clinton: “When I was secretary of state, we actually increased American exports globally 30 percent.”

Not the whole truth: Clinton is taking credit for the Obama administration’s gains through April of 2016. She left the State Department after Obama won re-election.

More to the point, however, these gains are paltry when you consider the context of the Obama administration’s goal, which was to “double our exports” between 2010 and 2015. When examined the numbers in July of 2016, it reported: “Lately, exports actually have been shrinking as the economies of China and other U.S. trading partners struggle. First-quarter exports were down 1.8 percent from the previous quarter, and were 5.3 percent below the same period a year earlier.”

Trump: “You called [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] the gold standard of trade deals. You said it was the finest deal you’ve ever seen.”
Clinton: “No.”

Yeah, she did call it that: In remarks at TechPort Australia in November of 2012, Clinton said: “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field. And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”

It’s actually on the State Department’s website.

Trump: “Our country is suffering because people like Secretary Clinton have made such bad decisions in terms of our jobs and in terms of what is going on. Now look, we have the worst revival of an economy since the Great Depression.”

Not really: Trump would have been on safe ground if he’d mentioned gross domestic product, not jobs. As far as employment goes, the current recovery is not the best, but it’s not the worst. Per NPR’s Scott Horsley:

Private sector employers have added 15.1 million jobs since the trough of the recession in 2010. Unemployment, which peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, has fallen to 4.9 percent. Unemployment among African-Americans, which peaked at 16.8 percent in March 2010, has fallen to 8.1 percent. And unemployment among African-American young people is not 58 percent as Trump claimed, but 26.1 percent.


For comparison: Jobs per year was strongest under Bill Clinton (2.8 million), followed by Carter (2.6 million), Reagan (2 million), Obama (1.3 million as of January), H.W. Bush (659,000), and W. Bush (160,000).

Trump: “This Janet Yellen of the Fed, the Fed is doing political by keeping interest rates at this level.”

No proof: This is an accusation for which no evidence has been provided as The Associated Press has noted. Yellen has consistently pooh-poohed this notion. For what it’s worth, Trump has previously averred, “I’m not a person that thinks Janet Yellen is doing a bad job. I happen to be a low-interest rate person unless inflation rears its ugly head, which can happen at some point.” 

Trump: “Lester, we have a trade deficit with all of the countries that we do business with, of almost $800 billion a year.”

Wrong: Per Neil Irwin of The New York Times: “He has the number wrong. The United States trade deficit was about $500 billion in 2015, and is on track for a similar number this year. He is likely referring to the trade deficit in goods, which was $762 billion last year. But that was counteracted by a $262 billion surplus in services.”

Clinton: “You even went and suggested that you would try to negotiate down the national debt of the United States.”
Trump: “Wrong.”

True: Trump did do this. Per the Times’ Binyamin Appelbaum:

Asked on Thursday whether the United States needed to pay its debts in full, or whether he could negotiate a partial repayment, Mr. Trump told the cable network CNBC, “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.”

He added, “And if the economy was good, it was good. So, therefore, you can’t lose.”

“Such remarks by a major presidential candidate have no modern precedent,” Appelbaum writes.

Trump: “We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African- Americans, Hispanics are living in Hell because it’s so dangerous.”

Nope: While 70 percent of black and Hispanic Americans do live in cities, those cities are a long way from Hell.

The Fair Punishment Project, a center based at Harvard Law School, pointed out that the country is “safer under President Obama than under any other President in over a half-century.”

 “No year during George W. Bush’s, Bill Clinton’s, George H.W. Bush’s or Ronald Reagan’s presidency was as safe as 2015,” according to a summary prepared by the project leaders. “Violent crime in the U.S. is near historic lows and the country is dramatically safer than it was 45 years ago, 25 years ago, and 10 years ago.”

Trump: Stop and frisk “worked very well, Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani is here worked very well in New York.”

False: According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, stop-and-frisk “yielded few weapons when officials justified the policy as a way to reduce shootings and recover guns; in more than 5 million stops, police recovered a gun less than 0.02 percent of the time. And as the NYPD ramped up the number of stops, shootings and murders in the city did not appear to correspondingly decline.”

On a related note, when Holt pointed out that “stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York,” Trump went ballistic.

Trump: No, you’re wrong. It went before a judge, who was a very against-police judge. It was taken away from her. And our mayor, our new mayor, refused to go forward with the case.”

The moderator is right: Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in 2013 that stop-and-frisk violated the Fourth and 14th Amendments. Following the ruling, the city of New York filed a motion to vacate it, but the motion was denied.

On another related note, Trump seems completely unaware of how his positions come across to millions of black voters.

Trump:  “I think that I’ve developed very, very good relationships over the last little while with the African-American community. I think you can see that.”

On the contrary: Despite several transparent efforts to pander to minorities, chiefly by visiting black churches, black voters aren’t buying it. Trump polled at about 3 percent among black voters this month ― a number that’s historically low.   

Trump: “We pay approximately 73 percent of the cost of NATO. It’s a lot of money to protect other people. But I’m all for NATO.”

Wrong: The number Trump uses is three times more than the US actually pays for the cost of NATO, which is just over 22 percent of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance’s annual spending. Trump loves to take digs at NATO, the alliance responsible for the longest single stretch of peace in the United States and Europe in modern history. For Trump, it’s not about peace, or coordinated responses to global crises. It’s just that Trump hates paying for anybody else. Penny-wise here is staggeringly pound foolish.

Clinton: “I’m glad that we’re ending private prisons in the federal system.”

Not quite: As NPR’s John Burnett points out, “the Department of Homeland Security ― which has more that 70 percent of its noncitizen detainees in private prisons ― is studying the issue but has made no commitment to sever its ties to the for-profit prison industry.”

Trump: A reiteration of his claim that the Clinton campaign invented birtherism.

Ridiculous: That’s a lie. Full stop.

Trump: “I was just endorsed by ICE.”

Interesting theory: There’s no way to confirm how frozen water feels about Trump, but the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency has offered him no such endorsement. Rather, a union of ICE employees did endorse him.

Clinton: “With the larger point he says this constantly is George W. Bush made the agreement about when American troops would leave Iraq not Barack Obama. And the only way that American troops could have stayed in Iraq is to get an agreement from the then Iraqi government that would have protected our troops.”

In reality: It’s true that Bush negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement that dictated the timetable for troop withdrawals and that any modification would have had to come from the Iraqi government. But it’s a fair point to say that Obama’s hands weren’t explicitly and wholly tied, and that he could have negotiated further for a residual force. He chose not to ― critics are allowed point this out. 

Clinton: “I think we have got to have an intelligence surge where we are looking for every scrap of information [related to terrorist attacks in the United States].

A glib-sounding, but not necessarily realistic solution. As the New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo points out: “the United States already collects and shares more intelligence than ever.”

The F.B.I. has been successful in arresting suspects who are in contact with terrorist figures overseas. The greater challenge for law enforcement today is often that homegrown terrorists commit no crime until an attack. And the F.B.I. is not allowed to conduct open-ended investigations without evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Nor is it allowed to collect intelligence solely related to people’s views. Admiring Osama bin Laden or the Islamic State or expressing hatred for the United States is not a crime.

Trump: “Iran is one of [North Korea’s] biggest trading partners. Iran has power over North Korea.”

Wrong: North Korea’s biggest trading partners are, in order of importance, China; South Korea; India; and the European Union.

Trump: “We are not keeping up with other countries’ [nuclear weapons]. I would like everybody to end [nuclear armament], just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike.”

The terrifying reality: This is a scary one, because it’s clear that Trump doesn’t understand what Holt was asking. In theory, Obama could decide to end the United States’ decades-long position that if pressed, we would use nuclear weapons first, even against a non-nuclear nation. But even though Obama may change this policy before he leaves office, for Trump to say he “wouldn’t do first strike,” when this has been U.S. policy for decades, revealed how little the presidential hopeful knows about America’s nuclear arsenal.

Clinton: “[Trump is] someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers.”
Trump: “I never said that.”

Totally true: He definitely did.

Clinton: “Donald supported the invasion of Iraq.”
Trump: “Wrong.”

Right: This is the granddaddy of all Trump lies. We will be pointing this out for the rest of our lives. 

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is aserial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

Jason Linkins   |   September 23, 2016   10:35 AM ET

Could there possibly be anything more esoteric than yet another piece about “debate expectations” and the way the false consciousness of the media inevitably overrides the substance of two presidential candidates, making the whole thing an exercise in worse-than-futility? Probably not!

But here we are. So let’s start by inscribing the epitaph on the tombstone of the forthcoming debates, courtesy of Dylan Matthews, who in 2012 dropped this wisdom on us at The Washington Post:

In short, the effects on debates on eventual votes are likely mild, and, in most cases, effectively nil. Moreover, what effects do exist are often caused by factors wholly beyond the candidates’ control, like media coverage, attractiveness, and whether voters are watching a Nats game in the other panel of their TV. 

It’s best to just state that up front, lest anyone continue under the impression that the radical promise of a presidential debate ― the idea that the public might be provided with an array of substantive policy arguments so they’ll have the crucial information they’ll need on Election Day ― is anything but bunk. How the media allows itself to get spun, and by whom, goes a lot further in determining the “winner” of these things.

Matthews has some math that speaks to this:

Arizona’s Kim Fridkin and her colleagues conducted an experiment to test this proposition at the 2004 debate in Tempe, Ariz. They asked 74 voters to watch the debate and say who they thought won. 25 watched the debate without seeing commentary afterwards, 25 watched and saw commentary from NBC News which suggested that George W. Bush won, and 24 watched and saw commentary from CNN which suggested that John Kerry won. It turns out that the effects of cable news spin were enormous. 

And you know that negative opinion you have about horse-race political coverage? Matthews notes that you are correct to have it:

The way that the media talks about the debates also matters. Ohio State’s Ray Pingree, Lousiana State’s Rosanne Scholl and Ohio State’s Andrea Quenette showed 700 students a five-minute clip from a 2004 debate. A third read no news coverage, a third read “horse-race” coverage that framed the debate as a competition between the candidates, and a third read substantive coverage focused on the candidates’ policy differences.

Pingree and his coauthors then asked the students to write out a description of the debate. They found that the descriptions by students who’d read the substantive coverage contained the greatest number of opinions provided with supporting evidence, whereas those who’d read the horse-race coverage wrote descriptions with much less substance. 

“This suggests that the media can trivialize the debate,” writes Matthews. I reckon that very few of you will object to this idea.

So let’s just take this as a given: We, in the media, are going to screw this up. Some of us will do it accidentally, some with malice aforethought. You should avoid us. Maybe you should close this tab right now ― click the little x! It’s right up there!☝️― and unplug your laptop. Ram a power drill through your hard drive and throw it in the trash, along with your television.

I’m sort of not kidding! 

If you ask anyone who covers politics to explain the “expectations game” going into the first presidential debate, you’ll likely get the same answer: The expectations are asymmetric in a way that favors Donald Trump.

See, Hillary Clinton is generally perceived as a capable but flawed politician with a large knowledge base and a decades-long career of crafting and articulating complicated policy ideas. Consequently, Clinton can do everything right in a debate and still fail to impress anyone, because it’s what we all expected of her anyway.

Trump, on the other hand, is widely and correctly perceived as an impulsive and ignorant political neophyte, prone to debasing himself and insulting others. His bar is set at “literally might have a complete psychotic break.” If he doesn’t do that, then he soars over the bar. (And if he does, then hey ― he’s just confirming expectations.)

As Jonathan Chait noted this week at New York magazine, Trump’s advisers have been going to heroic lengths to give the impression that Trump himself is barely preparing for Monday’s debate. And that’s exactly what they should be doing ― setting people’s expectations at rock bottom. Prime the world to expect an utter disaster, so that when Trump makes it through the full evening without giving a purple nurple to a Peace Corps worker, everyone will rave about what a great job he did. So disciplined, so presidential, so much better than expected.

That’s the game. I’ve given it away. But nobody needs me to give it away. It’s transparent to everyone. 

And that’s the vexing thing. The political press, one imagines, has to understand what’s going on here. They’ve seen this sort of strategy time and again. If you were to say to any cable news pundit, “Hey, you know they’re trying to work you, right?” ― well, that pundit would get piss-up indignant with you, because of course they know that. So you’d think that when political journos speak plainly about the asymmetry in the “expectations game,” it means they’re inoculating themselves against the trick.

You’d be wrong. This isn’t the media immunizing itself. This is the media pre-confessing to the crime it plans to commit. 

Look ― there are, of course, a number of media professionals who take a fact-based approach to covering politics, and who want to banish the black miasma of lies that Trump routinely belches out like a smokestack. (Obligatory parenthetical: Yes, Clinton lies too. Trump lies more.) But they’re fighting a two-front war against deceptive politicians and their own colleagues in the media, the worst of whom will giddily degrade the efforts of fact-checkers and insist that their own mystical bullshit is “the real world.”

Here, too, you will likely find an asymmetry. I daresay that if you were to compare the salaries of people who check the facts and people who get paid to weave a phantasmagoric tapestry of “perceptions” and “optics,” you’d learn a very hard lesson about where the incentives lie in the media business.

So with all this said, how should you approach the upcoming debates? Am I advising you to switch off the coverage before the spin begins? Forego the televised spectacle and read a day-after transcript? Watch the whole thing and rage against those who’ll tell you your eyes are lying to you?

No. I am simply trying to help you set some realistic expectations. 

But how can you know that for sure?


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

Jason Linkins   |   September 22, 2016   12:16 PM ET

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is going to be participating in three presidential debates over the next month, and the question is going to come up ― most likely in all three: “Something something private email server something something your judgment yada yada American people?” You can basically bank on it. Clinton should be prepared for it. And whether you’re tired of this question being asked or still unsatisfied by the answers Clinton has proffered so far, you probably don’t expect Clinton to say anything new about the matter.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As I’ve written before, Clinton’s original decision to forego the use of any email account than the “” domain she was entitled to was her error from hell. Ever since its existence has become publicly known, it’s created a problem that she can’t solve ― there’s no magic number of emails that can be disclosed that can put the transparency issue to bed.

But this doesn’t preclude Clinton from doing more to settle the matter. Clinton has a chance to address this issue in a more satisfying way. And the path to doing so is for her to start thinking like a journalist, because ultimately, the issue of her private email server is a matter that hits them right where they live. This story has a unique salience to journalists ― it’s about hidden information and transparency. We have to expect journalists to want less of the former and more of the latter. Clinton has to address this matter in a way that acknowledges these values, and affirms their virtuousness ― even when they come as a personal cost to her.

Of her decision to use a private email server, Clinton has said, “That was a mistake.” Very well! Journalists also make mistakes. When journalists make factual errors in their pieces  ― and I’m sorry to say that I have firsthand knowledge of this ― there is a four-part response that’s considered to be the industry standard. First, you express regret. Second, you disclose to your readers the errors you made, so that it becomes apparent to everyone who failed to notice them. Third, you disclose to your readers how you came to make those mistakes.

In considering Clinton’s response to her email server woes, I’d say that she has made a public attempt to check these three boxes. There is obviously room to disagree as to how well she’s done so. I personally think her effort to check the third box ― I set up this email server because Colin Powell advised me to do so ― is a little wanting. Satisfying or not, however, I’ll acknowledge that an effort has been made.

But there is a fourth thing that should follow these disclosures ― you should publicly disclose the steps you are going to take to avoid the mistake in the future. For Clinton, that’s the box left unchecked. It’s also the only way she can possibly answer the same old question in a new ― and potentially satisfying ― way.

Obviously, one thing she could do to address this is to simply promise to never use a private email server while in the White House. That would, indeed, be a good start. But that doesn’t really address the issue. Clinton’s use of a private email server doesn’t rankle people because Clinton found an IT workaround to her email situation. The reason it inflames the passions is because it tells a story about transparency and accountability ― a story in which Clinton comes off very poorly.

So the essential thing that Clinton is obliged to do in this instance is to articulate how she will be more transparent and accountable as president. That’s how she completes her “I have made a mistake and learned from it” circle ― with new, specific commitments to make herself more publicly accountable and more open to the press. Absent that, her expressions of regret reads as, “I regret that everyone found out about this.” 

The good news is that there are a lot of substantial commitments she can make regarding transparency, and the upcoming debates are the perfect venue in which to make them.

1. Tear down Obama’s FOIA wall.

As the Associated Press reported in March, the Obama administration set new records for frustrating journalists seeking information through the Freedom Of Information Act:

In more than one in six cases, or 129,825 times, government searchers said they came up empty-handed last year. Such cases contributed to an alarming measurement: People who asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, also a record. In the first full year after President Barack Obama’s election, that figure was only 65 percent of cases.

Clinton should promise to do everything in her power to reverse this trend, up to and including fostering a cultural shift among her own close advisers. Sorry, Philippe Reines, it’s a sunshiny new attitude for you, or take it on the arches.

2. Back off whistle-blowers and the journalists with whom they work.

It’s understandable that any White House would want to keep a lid on some sensitive national security matters. But the Obama administration, after promising to provide whistle-blowers with certain protections for those who go through “proper channels,” has become best known for their feral crackdown on whistle-blowers who don’t blow that whistle just the way the White House likes. And what has it accomplished? A 2013 New York Times headline says it all: “Math Behind Leak Crackdown: 153 Cases, 4 Years, 0 Indictments.”

Meanwhile, as ProPublica reported, a by-product of this crackdown has been a toxic relationship with journalists:

The administration has also targeted journalists. In May, it was revealed that the Department of Justice had secretly seized AP reporters’ phone records while investigating a potential CIA leak, and targeted a Fox News reporter as part of a criminal leak case (outlined below). No journalist has been charged with a crime. But the news prompted an outcry that Obama’s hard line on leaks could have a “chilling effect” on investigative reporting that depends on inside sources. (In response, the Justice Department issued new guidelines limiting when journalists’ records can be sought.)

Clinton should pledge to provide a more open environment where whistle-blowers can serve taxpayer interests in partnership with a Clinton White House, and in which journalists don’t get the KGB treatment when they’re doing their job.

3. Close the loopholes in the “open meetings law.”

As the Washington Post’s Jason Ross Arnold noted in March 2015, the Obama administration has only offered “checkered support” for something called the Federal Advisory Committee Act, “widely known as the open meetings law.” Per Arnold:

The administration did not try to sidestep FACA as frequently as some of its predecessors, but officials have played word games, such as calling private-sector participants on the post-Newtown, Conn., gun control task force “consultants” instead of “members.” That helped the administration conceal meeting records and member names.

The administration also has deployed other evasive tactics, including simply ignoring FACA. Officials have liberally utilized FACA’s court-validated loopholes, FOIA exemptions and the classification stamp to close more than 60 percent of committee meetings to the public — about the same number as under the Bush administration.

This should be an easy fix and an obvious promise to make.

4. Get the Cabinet agencies in compliance with the Open Government Directive.

As the Sunlight Foundation’s Alex Howard reported last week, “2,473 days after President Barack Obama issued an Open Government Directive, half of the 15 Cabinet agencies of the United States have not complied with the most basic aspect of the executive order: publishing an open government plan on their open website.”

Per Howard: 

While the guidance that the White House provided asked the right questions, the lack of answers from the agencies not only calls into question the Obama administration’s commitment to open government but the extent to which its legacy will be baked into the next administration. When the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has an empty/open page, with no plan, contact information, FOIA data or progress report of any kind, it leaves the public with an understandable impression that the executive order by the President of the United States has no teeth.

Clinton should make it clear to her own agency heads that executive orders governing their transparency practices will have teeth.

5. Make a real commitment to the White House Press Corps.

Obviously, it’s only natural for any presidential administration to have a semi-adversarial relationship with the dedicated watchdogs who ply their trade in the White House Press Room. Clinton’s future press secretary will appear behind the lectern, parrying questions, offering the best possible spin, and getting into arguments. The press will push and probe right back. It won’t always be friendly, and it’s not supposed to be.

Nevertheless, a future Clinton administration can provide more openness, and help these reporters do their jobs better. Clinton should pledge to meet with the top brass at the White House Correspondents’ Association in her first week in office and ask them for a letter-grade evaluation on the current state of their relationship with the White House. She should solicit their opinions on what could be done differently, and promise to implement enough changes to raise that evaluation by a full letter grade in her first year in office.

One thing she could offer right off the bat is to make sure the administration never impedes the important work of reporters who provide the White House pool report. Believe it or not, there have been instances in the recent past in which White House press aides “have demanded ― and received ― changes in press-pool reports before the reports have been disseminated to other journalists.” This should never happen. In fact, the White House should give the (unredacted) pool report a prominent place in the “Briefing Room” section of their own website. 

If you want to know other ways a Clinton administration could improve their relationship with the press, the Society of Professional Journalists has recently highlighted a number of ways that the Obama White House is impeding transparency, including:

• Officials blocking reporters’ requests to talk to specific staff people;
• Excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters’ deadlines;
• Officials conveying information “on background,” refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking;
• Federal agencies blackballing reporters who write critically of them;
• A continued lack of meaningful visual access to the President by an independent press pool

I daresay that ending, or even rolling back, some of these practices, will leave the White House Press Corps feeling better.

I am sympathetic to the argument that the president of the United States is entitled to certain amount of private space to conduct business. I’m not suggesting that Clinton preside from a panopticon. But these are some concrete commitments and keepable promises, ranging from “on day one” decisions to beneficial cultural changes. Any or all of these goals can be distilled into a debate answer.

And there’s no better time to undertake this mission. One of the reasons that many of Bernie Sanders’ supporters have not taken to Clinton is because the Vermont senator successfully presented himself as the better avatar of good governance. He offered his young, liberal base something they’d never known in life ― a seemingly incorruptible choice for president. Clinton took on water during the primary because he depicted her as a politician who could be compromised and who benefitted from a rigged system. By offering to hold herself to a higher standard, she’ll go a long way to reducing their skepticism.

And let’s face it, another reason it is an apt time to start making these pledges is because her current opponent, Donald Trump, can’t possibly match them ― and no one would believe him if he claimed to. 

Moreover, making these pledges helps to communicate to journalists: “I acknowledge your concern over the email matter. You have the right to inquire, and the right to expect me to provide you with real assurances.” This is a good way to change the entire conversation, and if multiple debate moderators want to keep asking multiple questions about her past email practices, she can keep on re-affirming these commitments.

Make no mistake, these promises paint a real target on Clinton’s back, and it assures that any future sins against transparency will be doubly remembered.

But that’s sort of the point. Clinton’s detractors point to her email scandal and suggest it bespeaks a greater potential for deception. Clinton’s defenders point to Politifact’s testimony to her quantifiable honesty. But all of this is just talking. In the end, only Hillary Clinton can choose to be one or the other, and demonstrate her character through her future actions. A good first step is to enter into a bold covenant right now, raise the stakes and the standards, and offer a little bit of genuine surprise.

Like it or not, Clinton’s fateful decision to have a private email server now shades the entire enterprise of her candidacy, infecting the public’s perceptions of her. But they say that sunlight is the best disinfectant. She can be the one to start spreading a little sunshine, from the debate stage. 


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   September 20, 2016    8:58 PM ET

One of the bits of breaking news this week was Politico’s Darren Samuelson’s widely corroborated scoop that former President George H.W. Bush had let it be known that he intended to vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in this year’s election, instead of Donald Trump, his party’s nominee.

Were this one of those elections where “The Party Decides” and in which elites signal their preferences and steer public opinion, this would be a huge event on the campaign trail. It is, of course, not one of those elections, though many argue that Bush’s quasi-Clinton endorsement may carry weight with, say, moderately conservative suburban women who have hitherto been unaware of who Donald Trump is, exactly. Regardless, one way in which Trump is an oddity is that he’s not yet won the support of any living president.

On Tuesday’s edition of CNN’s “Erin Burnett Out Front,” the eponymous host asked Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway about the elder Bush’s snub: “That of course is not just not voting for Donald Trump, it is voting for Hillary Clinton. What is your response to that?”

Conway mainly responded by seeming to take a shot at Bush’s age: “Well, I respect the 92-year old former president very much and his decision, and I think that Americans are very grateful to the Bush family for their public service, that’s his right.”

I’m not sure it was necessarily respectful to pointedly note Bush’s age like that. It seems to imply that Bush is a doddering old man without any real sense of what’s going on. But while we’re being so respectful, it’s worth pointing out that whoever wins this election, Trump or Clinton, would be the oldest person to ever take office as president.* Trump, the more senior of the two, seems to be very forgetful. Just last week, he gave a speech in Washington in which he seemed to forget that he was a birther, despite this being the most essential aspect of his political career. It’s curious!

Anyway, Conway would go on to say, “This was a bruising primary, and Jeb Bush really failed all expectations that he would be the quote ― electable, the predominant person on the stage.” No arguments there.

*Technically Clinton would tie Ronald Reagan, who took office at age 69 in 1980, for the oldest candidate to win the presidency, but that’s still a tie.

This article has been updated to note that Reagan was 69 when he entered the White House.


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

Jason Linkins   |   September 20, 2016   10:22 AM ET

On Monday, Sept. 26th, the nation will come together as one to watch the first of three presidential debates between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. The candidates have just a few days of preparation left, and to better facilitate that, the debate’s moderator, NBC News’ Lester Holt, has announced the topic areas that he will be covering over the course of the 90-minute tilt.

Those topics are... well, pretty vague! Here’s the announcement from the Commission on Presidential Debates:

Subject to possible changes because of news developments, the topics for the September 26 debate are as follows, not necessarily to be brought up in this order:

America’s Direction
Achieving Prosperity
Securing America

The debate will be held on Monday, September 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. The format calls for six 15-minute time segments. Two 15-minute segments will focus on each of the topics listed above.

So, apparently, the debate will double as each candidate’s college admissions essay.

These aren’t debate topics, they’re platitudes. They are the sort of subjects on which sixth graders write penmanship themes. How does knowing this help the candidates prepare for the debate? How does knowing this enable the debate’s audience to be more informed about the proceedings? Literally who is this announcement for?

As my colleague Ariel Edwards-Levy points out, the best thing about these topics is that they are so completely interchangeable that mixing up all the words neither changes the overall specificity of the debate topics, nor does it impact the candidates’ ability to prepare:

Probably my favorite thing about this “announcement” is the part where the CPD says that they are “subject to possible changes because of news developments.” I really appreciate the optimism: there’s definitely an outside possibility that in the next six days, we might finally achieve prosperity or secure America, making it a moot issue. Should that happen, Holt will have to call an audible, picking from topics like:

  • Securing Even More Prosperity
  • The Perfect Christmas Morning
  • Talk About Your Grandmother
  • Achieving Erection
  • Should We Put Secured Prosperity In Some Sort Of Box, As A Keepsake?
  • How Do I Get This Stain Off My Shower Curtain Liner?
  • Iterating American Synergy
  • Should I Bring Something To Your Party, Wine Perhaps?
  • Dogs Or Cats, Who Ya Got?
  • How Soon Can You Circle Back To Me?

Anyway, tune in Monday at 9 p.m., to hear your presidential candidates finally answer questions like, “America: Should It Good Or Nah?”


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   September 16, 2016   11:59 AM ET

Media critics and the objects of their criticism have spent the last few weeks bickering over such issues as false equivalency, how the expectations of the race have ended up getting exceptionally bent out of whack, and who, ultimately, takes the blame for the way GOP presidential nominee and enraged eczema blister Donald Trump has been covered.

It’s a fun fight for navel-gazers to have as our country’s democratic norms slowly erode, but I’d like to interject with a brief verdict: No matter what we have to say about the media’s role in enlarging Trump’s persona, I think we can all agree that the cable news networks are the worst.

The worst.

On Friday morning, Trump was expected to give a press conference ― make a note of that: a press conference! ― on the topic of birtherism. It’s a rich field for Trump, given that he is the universe’s most high-profile promoter of the thoroughly lunatic idea that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. The night before the press conference, Trump began building excitement by suggesting that he had somehow moved on from birtherism.

The morning of the big event, Trump had the opportunity to put the matter to rest. Rather than doing so, he told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo:

You watch my statement. We have to keep the suspense going. You, my friend, watch the statement. I think you’ll be happy.

“Ah ha ha ha ha!” replied a giddy Bartiromo, because this is all such fun! There’s nothing at stake at all! 

From the outset, this press conference ― which was held at Trump’s latest real estate venture, the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. ― was presented to the media in the same way a pet owner might tease his tabby with a pinch of catnip. But it was also something that should have been approached with suspicion, because it was very clear going in that this heralded Trump backtrack was actually based on a different lie: that Hillary Clinton had come up with the birtherism theory, and that Trump had debunked it. 

There was good cause to be on edge. 

Naturally, cable news channels and their cameras joined the traveling press pool assembled at Trump’s hotel. Their broadcast didn’t get off to a great start: It began with a static shot of an empty lectern, which seemed to go on forever as Trump was ― probably strategically ― late in arriving.

And even as the cable news chyrons continued to promote the idea that we were about to see a “major announcement about birtherism,” Trump began his press conference with a lengthy monologue about his hotel. It was right about here that people in attendance instantly recognized that a scam was being perpetrated. Yet the silent, unthinking eye of the cable news cameras stayed open.

For the first few minutes, this press conference felt more like an infomercial for Trump’s new property. From there, he began beckoning the assembled to take in the other people in the room ― a ragtag assemblage of Medal of Honor winners and at least one Gold Star mother who had not been alienated by Trump’s vicious attacks on one of her fellows.

Now, it’s not strange for politicians to acknowledge supporters from the dais. This has become a fairly standard preamble for politicians making public appearances. But what happened next was highly unusual: Trump abruptly stopped talking.

At this point, it started to become clear that what was happening was not a press conference. Rather, it was a campaign event. Trump yielded the stage to the other men standing with him, and these heretofore unknown endorsers began 20-some minutes of straight surrogacy. It went on and on, interminably. At one point, a man was simply reciting the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Where was the birtherism event?

On the ground, some began to make the correct editorial judgments.

Others wondered if the cable news channels were dumb enough to still be covering this.

To answer the question: Yes, the cable news networks broadcast every blessed minute of this straight-up nonsense, long after it became obvious to everyone ― including, in many instances, their own field reporters ― that they had been rooked.

It was astonishing on a number of levels. Let’s begin with the fact that you’d be hard-pressed to find any example of a cable news network permitting 25 minutes of uninterrupted testimonials from random people supporting Hillary Clinton. 

More to the point, however, is that every cable news channel had promised its viewers that its would show Trump’s remarks on birtherism. Even when it became clear that this promise would be a long time coming, the cable channels aimed their cameras at an event that wasn’t implicitly part of the deal.

How is it that they couldn’t do the exact same thing as the journalist described above, and cut away? Were they really worried about missing Trump’s statement? Here’s a fun thing about television cameras: While they can broadcast live, they can also be used to record events. It’s pretty neat. Another cool innovation is that once you’ve recorded footage, you can edit it. It’s a great way to separate substantive news from dross. So there are options.

In the end, Trump only spent about 30 seconds on the birther issue, and it went the way many suspected from the outset: “Hillary Clinton started the birther controversy in 2008. I finished it. Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.” Save for the “Barack Obama was born in the United States” part, everything else was a ridiculous lie.

From there, Trump invited those in the traveling pool with cameras to take a tour of the hotel.

Why was any of this broadcast? What is it about the intellectual deficiencies of cable news producers that they didn’t realize, as their peers did, that the entire event was a sham? What is it about the psychological hangups of cable news anchors that prevents them from saying, “This is nonsense, let’s point the camera at me”? Do they not think of themselves highly enough?

Trump’s entire candidacy has been strange and stupid. Lots of people in the media have been flummoxed by it. I certainly have. But it’s getting pretty late in the day to get tricked like this ― to know you’re getting tricked like this ― and still stand passively by as if some unseen force is compelling you to leave your camera trained at your own befuddlement.

The promise of cable television news is that it offers the possibility of the instantaneous on demand ― 24 hours of fleet-footed coverage that can move from place to place, story to story, with agility. But what we saw during Trump’s so-called press conference is that for all this vaunted nimbleness, the editorial judgment of cable news producers lags well behind their counterparts outside the studio, who were quicker to realize they were being conned. And quicker to get this news out.

It seems pretty clear that Trump is aware of the fact that cable news is intellectually leadfooted, and that his own showman skills make him a maestro in this particular media arena. You can hardly blame him for pulling the sort of stunt he pulled today. He’ll probably do it again. Heck, he should do it again.

Afterwards, there was an effort undertaken to sort of make up for this ridiculous failure.

 And even some brief glimmers of self-awareness: 

Whoa, if true, there, cable ace.

Trump has said he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and [not] lose any voters.” Similarly, I believe that I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody without ever peeling a single cable news camera away from the sight of Trump’s empty lectern.

FFS, do better, you idiots.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   September 15, 2016    3:41 PM ET

In case you missed the hot, speculative news about the 2016 presidential race, The Huffington Post’s Ben Walsh and Ryan Grim reported that sources close to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump are saying that he’d be inclined to appoint “eccentric” tech billionaire (and Trump endorser) Peter Thiel to the Supreme Court, where he’ll have a greater opportunity to ensure that America’s plutocrats are no longer bothered by nosy journalists or would-be trust-busters.

But Hillary Clinton, she is not to be outdone! See, the former secretary of state knows tech billionaires, too (and not just disgraced ones), so if you want to get into a famous-friend-turned-potential-appointee fight, Clinton is ready to bring it. Here’s the skinny from Politico’s Morning Money newsletter:

TREASURY WATCH: SANDBERG RISING — Early speculation held that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg probably wouldn’t leave California to return to DC to serve as Treasury Secretary in a Clinton administration. That’s changed lately as MM hears more and more that she could return to be the first woman to lead Treasury. The left may not love her roots in the Bob Rubin wing of the Democratic Party but her star power and historic potential would probably blow away any opposition.

Naturally, this is all mere scuttlebutt, though it is plausible scuttlebutt for a host of reasons. As noted above, Sandberg has “roots” in the Democratic Party, and yes, it’s from the part of the Democratic Party that everyone’s rightly skeptical about. Prior to her Facebook career, Sandberg was enmeshed with the folks who appeared on the Time magazine cover that has aged the poorest. Specifically, she served as chief of staff to Larry Summers during his tenure as secretary of the treasury, where he served under Bill Clinton. 

But it’s not merely her place in the Clinton family orbit that makes this rumor feel just right. Sandberg is almost the perfect embodiment of Clinton’s larger economic policy portfolio ― indeed, the economic policy portfolio of the Democrats writ large ― which was ably summed up by author Thomas Frank in a March interview with HuffPost: “At some point, [the Democrats] decided that they weren’t all that interested in the concerns of working people anymore.” Rather, Frank says, they became fixated on “the concerns of the professional class, people with advanced degrees, people at the very top of our economic society.”

On the stump, Clinton talks about the need to further diversify this professional class. Hey, let’s solve income inequality by ensuring that the corporate board of every military contractor in Washington’s suburban belt looks more like the United Colors of Benetton, guys! Installing Sandberg at the Treasury, and releasing all the “historic potential” that comes from being the first woman to head the agency, would be in keeping with that theme. That’s “Part One” of the plan, anyway. (”Part Three” is “everybody wins” and Part Two is a series of tastefully aligned question marks.)

Sandberg, of course, is best known for being the author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, her insanely popular manifesto of next-wave feminist aspiration, which encourages women in the workforce (the “knowledge sector” workforce, anyway) to embolden themselves on the job and deconstruct all of the psychological barriers that these women have supposedly erected around themselves in order to surmount the more structural, sexist barriers erected by others (white men).

The book, naturally, spawned the Lean In Foundation, which bills itself as “a nonprofit organization and online community dedicated to helping all women achieve their ambitions.” But while there is no shortage of positive testimonials available at the foundation’s website ― including one from Reese Witherspoon, who’s well-known to have only won a single Academy Award (and a Golden Globe and a BAFTA and a Screen Actors Guild Award) before Lean In came along ― it’s hard to actually quantify how well the Lean In brand is helping individual women in the workforce.

However, it is easy to discern how well Lean In is serving its corporate sponsors. And it’s not exactly taking a courageous role in smashing the patriarchy.

In a 2013 issue of The Baffler, journalist and author Susan Faludi undertook a deep examination of Lean In’s corporate partners in order to settle an argument: “Sandberg’s admirers would say that Lean In is using free-market beliefs to advance the cause of women’s equality. Her detractors would say (and have) that her organization is using the desire for women’s equality to advance the cause of the free market.” 

Those detractors have a point! 

As Faludi skillfully enumerates, Lean In’s corporate partners are legion and include big names, such as: “Chevron, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Comcast, Bank of America and Citibank, Coca-Cola and Pepsico, AT&T and Verizon, Ford and GM, Pfizer and Merck & Co., Costco and Walmart, and, of course, Google and Facebook.”

As Faludi notes:

Never before have so many corporations joined a revolution. Virtually nothing is required of them — not even a financial contribution. “There are no costs associated with partnering with Lean In,” the organization’s manual assures. “We just ask that you publicly support our mission and actively promote our Community to your employees.” All the companies have to do is post their logo on Lean In’s “Platform Partners” page, along with a quote from one of their executives professing the company’s commitment to advancing women.

But as Faludi goes on to report, many of these corporations’ commitments to “advancing women” look very suspect when you start to examine their sundry legal altercations. Here’s just a taste from Faludi’s files:

Citibank: “In 2010, six current and former female employees sued Citibank’s parent company, Citigroup, for discriminating against women at all levels, paying them less, overlooking them for promotions, and firing them first in companywide layoffs.”

Booz Allen Hamilton: “In 2011, Molly Finn, a former partner at the firm who had been fired after serving as its highest-ranking female employee and a star performer, sued for sex discrimination. She charged the company with creating an unwelcome environment for women and intentionally barring them from top leadership posts. During a review for a promotion (which she was subsequently denied), she was told to stop saying ‘pro-woman, feminist things,’ she recalled.”

Wells Fargo: The bank reached a class-action settlement in a suit that “charged that the bank’s brokerage business, Wells Fargo Advisors (originally Wachovia Securities), discriminated against women in compensation and signing bonuses, denied them promotions, and cheated them out of account distributions, investment partnerships, and mentoring and marketing opportunities.”

Walmart: “In 2011, the world’s largest retailer famously managed to dodge one of the largest class-action sex-discrimination suits in U.S. history (involving 1.5 million women), after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on technical grounds that the case didn’t constitute a single class action.”

Faludi went on to seek comment from Sandberg about how Lean In squares its willingness to provide positive press to these corporations with the fact that, in many instances, they do not exactly deserve it ― as well as whether her current employer, Facebook, was taking to the Lean In revolution with any degree of zeal. For her troubles, Faludi was sent on a comical runaround that ended with some PR drone answering her questions by rejecting their premises. 

Suffice it to say that whatever benefits the Lean In revolution have provided for individual women in the workforce, it’s been a far greater boon to these corporate partners. For the low, low price of lip service to Lean In’s compilation of empowerment aphorisms, they might obtain the foundation’s imprimatur ― behind which they can hide a bevy of sins that a more rigorous band of feminists might confront more critically.

It’s the sort of brand-washing opportunity you can’t find many places. Though one place you can find it? The Clinton Foundation!

There’s little doubt that Clinton could benefit from Sandberg’s “star power” and her optimism. But this hot rumor is a trial balloon that floats many thousands of miles above the reality of our economy. It’s yet another pitch from the Clinton camp that’s aimed at an affluent and over-served segment of the population, squarely missing those who truly regard their future fortunes with a mix of anxiety and resignation.

Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t cater to the professional class at all. His pitch is squarely aimed at all the people Clinton talks over, above and around. He’s a class traitor, leading a band of white nationalists under a banner that promises to claw back the spoils of the country’s elites, and redistribute them to everyone who feels like they’ve lost out in the past half-century of progress.

Floating Sandberg as a possible Cabinet appointee comes at a curious time in the presidential race. As Clinton’s lead in the polls erodes, there seems to be a growing awareness that her campaign needs to retool its message to voters. What Sandberg’s name signals is that the next phase of the Clinton team’s public communications will be more optimistic and audacious. That’s not an entirely half-baked approach. This is a message that would draw contrast with Trump’s downcast view of the world and the gutter stylings he deploys to convey it.

The only hitch is that it’s hard to know for whom this message is intended. Surely not for the people in Ohio whose affections Clinton now desperately needs to win back. Right now, the race in that state ― and elsewhere ― seems to be trending in the other direction. 

Will further Lean In-esque paeans to the aspirations of well-heeled professionals draw these voters back to Clinton’s fold? I’m starting to wonder if the tightening race isn’t so much based on the recent media coverage of Clinton’s pneumonia as it is a product of the fact that her larger economic pitch has always tended to exclude the very people most in need of reassurances and a vision for the future. Trump may be a dangerous strongman, but he takes that strongman act right to that portion of the electorate who likely greet Clinton’s message ― and her obsession with the already affluent ― as tone-deaf.

There’s no doubt that Sandberg has proven that you can gather up a bunch of management bromides, package them as a prosperity gospel to the professional class and create a viral sensation. Clinton has, for a long while, spliced this sort of DNA into her economic pitch ― and it probably sounds great to both her donors and her base. But it’s an open question as to whether this reaches the voters she needs to persuade. 

In the end, I’m just not sure you can actually beat authoritarianism with a wall of Successories posters. But it’s starting to look like we’re going to find out.


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   September 14, 2016   12:06 PM ET

Over the past year, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell ― like many other conservative elites ― has been reluctant to be much more than a fence-sitter in the 2016 presidential race. The Huffington Post’s Michelle Fields reported toward the end of July that as attention was being turned toward the political conventions, Powell was a portrait of reticence ― even as prods to play an influential role came from both directions. But this week, Powell has been dragged into the spotlight all the same, after ― what else? ― a cache of hacked emails were publicly leaked.

So, his days as a fence-sitter could be numbered. But while it may be enlightening to know which of the two major party’s candidates Powell prefers, we are waiting for an even more interesting revelation: Is Colin Powell still guided by the same principles that have governed his previous endorsements? It’s an open question.

The content of Powell’s leaked emails ― which have been confirmed as authentic ― can be easily caricatured. In many ways, Powell is an example of that Everyman voter that media outlets love to use as a broad characterization of the electorate, unenthusiastic about the major party candidates and unhappy with the need to choose. It’s like a photo-negative of where Powell was in 2008, when he could offer both Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) equal heaps of praise, and yet come to a clear decision about whom he wanted to support.

Prior to this year’s conventions, Powell had criticized the cornerstone of Trump’s policy proposals ― the deportation of all undocumented immigrants ― telling the audience at the Washington Ideas Forum, “If I was around Mr. Trump, Donald, who I know rather well, I would say, ‘You know Don, let’s see what happens. Let’s tell all the immigrants working in Trump hotels to stay home tomorrow. See what happens.’” 

But Powell’s leaked emails don’t suggest the general would like to be “around Donald Trump” to offer his point of view. In them, he describes Trump as “a national disgrace and an international pariah.” He’s also unsparing about Trump’s views on race, writing that “there is nothing he can say” to black voters that would bring them to his side. “He takes us for idiots,” Powell writes. “He can never overcome what he tried to do to Obama with his search for the birth certificate ... the whole birther movement was racist.” 

Elsewhere, Powell notes that Trump “appeals to the worst angels of the GOP nature and poor white folks” and “has no sense of shame.”

But if Powell’s criticisms of Trump are broad and severe, what he has to say about Clinton ― while less scathing ― seems more personal. As The Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal notes, in one, Powell is aggrieved that Clinton’s large speakers fee diminished his own opportunities in the same arena:

“Everything HRC touches she kind of screws up with hubris,” Powell wrote in an email to private equity investor Jeffrey Leeds. “I told you about the gig I lost at a University because she so overcharged them they came under heat and couldn’t any fees for awhile. I should send her the bill.”

But more broadly, Powell is not pleased with the way he’s been tied to Clinton’s personal email account. Dogged by the story throughout the election cycle, Clinton has frequently opted to use Powell as her easy out ― characterizing her decision to use a private server as informed by advice from her State Department predecessor.

Clinton’s defenders point to an email she received from Powell, in which he discusses having set up the means to “communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department on their personal email accounts.” Powell has pushed back on this characterization throughout (and fact checkers have found the analogy wanting). That pushback continues in these leaked emails as well:

“Sad thing it [sic] that HRC could have killed this two years ago by merely telling everyone honestly what she had done and not tie me into it,” Powell said in one email. He wrote that he “told her staff three times not to try that gambit.”

There is a certain element of tone-deafness to the Clinton campaign’s attempts to deploy Powell as their bulwark against further criticism of the choices she made with regard to her emails. After all, Clinton spent a good portion of the post-convention period wooing just about every other Bush-era foreign policy figure, angling for their endorsement. Needlessly getting Powell’s back up over decisions that she alone made wasn’t exactly the best way to secure his support ― especially when you consider that Powell’s support may have been larger looming.

After all, Powell’s endorsement of Obama back in 2008 was freighted with significance, partly because the retired general remains a revered figure among media elites. When he decided to make his endorsement that year, he did so in a special segment of “Meet the Press,” in a conversation with Tom Brokaw that was more focused on pomp than probing. During that segment, Powell offered that the next president needed to “[convey] a new image of American leadership, a new image of America’s role in the world.” A more on-his-game Brokaw might have interjected at this point, pointing out that this “new image” was necessitated by the one left by President George W. Bush, whom Powell had served.

Of course, what this reveals is that Powell’s endorsement of Obama was at least partially undertaken as a way to rehabilitate Powell’s own image. But if you’re wondering how Powell might actually be leaning, between a former secretary of state who’s shown “hubris” and a reality television performer who is a “national disgrace,” we should consider another part of that “Meet the Press” segment, in which Powell reveals what inspired him to pick Obama over McCain:

POWELL: I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian.  He’s always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.  Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?  Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.  It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave.  And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone.  And it gave his awards―Purple Heart, Bronze Star―showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death.  He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.  And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey.  He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.  Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.  And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know.  But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

There are some obvious, more current echoes to the grotesque Islamophobia Powell saw back then, and the leaked emails indicate Powell has noticed them in Trump. “When Trump couldn’t keep [birtherism] up he said he also wanted to see if the certificate noted he was a Muslim ... As I have said before, ‘What if he was?’ Muslims are born as Americans everyday.”

So, one has to wonder if Powell has the desire to return to these past reflections, which he experienced when the standard-bearer of his party was not a flamboyant anti-Islamic bigot ― it was just a bewildering and troubling atmospheric condition in his party. Now that Powell can no longer separate the Republican presidential candidate from the creeping stench of Islamophobia, how can his zeal for “what we should not be doing in America” have faded?

As it happens, Powell has never been quick to offer endorsements. In the past two presidential election cycles, he’s held out until October before finally making his preferences known. So far, none of the attention paid to his leaked emails has prompted him to move up his timeline ― if anything, they’ve only fueled speculation that he may never move from the fence. 

Nevertheless, the only person who can clear up whether Powell is going to follow his conscience down the same path that led him to make a break with his party in 2008 is Powell. And so, we wait.

Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   September 12, 2016    4:55 PM ET

Take it from personal experience, pneumonia is no fun. It’s not to be wished on one’s worst enemy. But here’s the good news: America is not a developing nation, and if you have top notch health care here, it is eminently treatable.

I’m not sure the same can be said about whatever affliction causes one to be a crazed, authoritarian goon. That probably takes many years of therapeutic intervention. As you consider what currently ails our two presidential candidates, it might be worth keeping that in perspective!

Hillary Clinton, by the way, is the candidate with the lower respiratory ailment, the coverage of which you could not possibly avoid unless you’ve managed to find yourself comfortably off the grid. Right now, the cable news networks are examining Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia ― and the way it was suddenly revealed over the weekend after the Democratic nominee abruptly took leave of a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony ― with the sort of meticulous attention that Jim Garrison examined the Zapruder film.

That Clinton’s illness was revealed in such a fashion is silly on a number of levels, and her campaign certainly shares in the blame for how this story has ballooned in the past 48 hours. Clinton should not be attempting to keep up the manic pace of the campaign if she’s experiencing a serious illness. There’s a lot to be said about whether our presidential campaigns need to be two-year-long ordeals, but leaving that aside, it seems clear that Clinton and her campaign colleagues handled this poorly.

This is, perhaps, related to the bad relationship that Clinton has always had with the press. It’s also of a piece with the wild-eyed way the Trump campaign has been darkly promulgating paranoid rumors about her health. At some point, someone should have said, “Hey, you’re probably right that revealing your pneumonia will feed all this gross rumor-mongering, but on the other hand, let’s get rid of this pneumonia, man.”

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum rightfully points out that while it might be OK for ordinary people to keep a tight lid on their health conditions, presidential candidates have to adhere to different rules and Clinton “should have disclosed the pneumonia diagnosis as soon as she got it.” But Drum’s no fool:

So why did Clinton’s people try to hide her condition? That’s pretty easy: After months of baseless health speculation by Donald Trump’s rumor machine, she figured the press would go full National Enquirer over this. She didn’t trust them to handle it in a normal, level-headed way.

If so, credit the Clinton camp for at least some prescience. But the problem, all the same, is that now Clinton is said to be “on the defensive” about her response to her current health condition. In in a perfect world, she should just be going on the defensive with her pneumonia with antibiotics, not trying to “power through” it.

On the other hand, saving the country from the possibility that Donald Trump might become president is the sort of thing I might try to “power through” pneumonia to do. It could really boil down to how far you’re willing to go to keep the White House from falling into the hands of a candidate allied with white nationalists, you know?

Meanwhile, faintly in the background of this weekend’s pneumonia clamor, we have some fresh reminders of the essential corruptness of Trump’s character. The New York Daily News added some fresh reporting to the story of how Donald Trump ended up receiving $150,000 worth of taxpayer-provided Sept. 11 relief funds ― funds that ostensibly were to be used to help small businesses recover from the attacks on New York City.

As MSNBC’s Steve Benen points out:

Trump has defended receiving the money because, according to his version of events, he let tenants stay in his building after the attacks. Patting himself on the back in the spring, Trump claimed, “I was happy to do it and to this day I am still being thanked for the many people I helped. The value of what I did was far greater than the money talked about.”

But as the Daily News’ Cameron Joseph reports: “Though the billionaire presidential candidate has repeatedly suggested he got that money for helping others out after the attacks, documents obtained by the Daily News show that Trump’s account was just a huge lie.” Those documents reveal that “Trump’s company asked for those funds for ‘rent loss,’ ‘cleanup,’ and ‘repair’ ― not to recuperate money lost in helping people.”

Joseph adds, “It’s unclear what, if any, help Trump provided to those affected by 9/11.” So how Trump used this taxpayer-funded windfall for charitable purposes remains a mystery.

And that’s an oddly consistent theme with Trump, one that the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold returned to over the weekend with a lengthy piece investigating the alleged charitable works of the Donald J. Trump Foundation. Now, this Foundation does like to throw its money around. As The Huffington Post’s Christina Wilkie reported, in one notable instance it provided $25,000 to a PAC supporting the re-election bid of Florida Attorney General (and friend to Trump University) Pam Bondi. (This donation violated various tax laws, forcing Trump to pay a fine.)

What Fahrenthold discovered, however, is that the Trump Foundation “collects and spends money in a very unusual manner.” 

For one thing, nearly all of its money comes from people other than Trump. In tax records, the last gift from Trump was in 2008. Since then, all of the donations have been other people’s money — an arrangement that experts say is almost unheard of for a family foundation.

Trump then takes that money and generally does with it as he pleases. In many cases, he passes it on to other charities, which often are under the impression that it is Trump’s own money.

In two cases, he has used money from his charity to buy himself a gift. In one of those cases — not previously reported — Trump spent $20,000 of money earmarked for charitable purposes to buy a 6-foot-tall painting of himself.

Fahrenthold is looking for that portrait, by the way.

He’s also on the hunt for that Tim Tebow helmet that Trump is said to have bought himself with foundation money. The Trump camp’s story is that this helmet was given “to a child.” Kid, if you’re out there, you can come forward and perhaps begin the process of rehabilitating Trump’s reputation.

Let’s face it, Clinton is still more likely to recover from her pneumonia faster. Hers is a disease of the lungs, not the core. Trump’s corruption is who he is. As The Huffington Post’s S.V. Date has reported at length, Trump is using the donor money his campaign is receiving from the Republican National Committee’s donor connection in the same manner he used other people’s charity ― to enrich himself. 

Beyond all that, Trump is still the person most rational adults fear getting access to the nuclear codes. He’s still the guy who seems to want a cozier relationship with other autocratic regimes, who dreams about palling around with Vladimir Putin. He’s still the guy hiding his tax returns. Still the guy retweeting racist memes. Still the guy whose main focus, on Sept. 11, was how he now had the tallest building in downtown Manhattan. Had Hillary Clinton done any of those things ― forget pneumonia ― she’d have been felled long before she started running a fever.

To be honest, the Trump campaign’s obsessive fascination with Clinton’s health is a really good example of what kind of twisted and abnormal person their candidate is. A normal Republican opponent at this point in the campaign would be looking for opportunities to do some essential case-making. They’d be comparing and contrasting legislative agendas, introducing new ideas, selling an economic plan, laying out a vision for foreign policy and domestic priorities, and enjoining old and important American arguments about the size and role of government.

The Trump campaign doesn’t see any of this as pre-eminently important. By design, Trump’s policies are impossible to pin down ― even in the arena of immigration, he can veer wildly from day to day. His lack of interest in substance is plainly felt whenever he delivers an anesthetized, teleprompter-driven oration about policy. No, what this campaign is all about is waiting and hoping for Clinton to cough ― so he can reinvigorate the paranoia of the InfoWars set. That’s what represents a “political opportunity” for the Trump campaign.

Trump’s basic promise is to inflict America with his own affliction: to deform democratic norms, destroy at least a century of progress, and apply his own “to the victor goes the spoils” promise to a teeming mass of white nationalists playing a zero-sum game of identity politics. There is a constituency for this platform, and the good news for them is that they have a candidate to vote for in this election that can’t be cured of these predilections. 

To anyone who doesn’t share that point of view, I don’t think anyone can improve upon the perspective of former Mitt Romney campaign manager Stuart Stevens:


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

Jason Linkins   |   September 12, 2016   12:38 PM ET

For the past year and a half, the more responsible elements of the media have endeavored to tell a specific story about the presidential election, to make one thing clear above all others: Republican nominee Donald Trump has widely embraced all manner of bigots, making a home for them in his campaign.

This simple fact has been pounded home, over and over again, in print, online and on television. And although these types of stories are, conveniently, good for revenue ― they sell papers, grab eyeballs, drive traffic ― I’ve taken the media at their word that they sincerely believe attention must be paid to this development.

Should I have, do you think?

I’m starting to wonder, because over the weekend, all of this reportorial effort was echoed and confirmed by the other major-party candidate in the race, Hillary Clinton. At a fundraiser this past Friday, Clinton honored the work of countless reporters when she described “half” of Trump’s supporters as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenopobic, Islamaphobic ― you name it,” and declared that these many types of bigots belong to a “basket of deplorables.”

Ah, vindication! Legitimacy! For the political journalists who’d been saying the same thing about Trump supporters for over a year, this must have been a sweet moment, yes? A time to celebrate, a time to rejoice that one of the world’s most visible and influential public figures was basically saying Yup, you were right?

Ha ha, not really. I mean, yes, there has been some of that. But by and large, the response from the media, upon hearing Clinton say this stuff that the media has been saying for months and months and months, was: What! How dare you! 

It raises some uncomfortable questions: Is everything that’s been said and written about Trump’s supporters true? And if so, are only some people permitted to acknowledge this truth? Ultimately, this minor madness tells us less about Clinton and more about the political press, their love of banal cliches and their constant demand that Clinton reveal “authenticity,” despite the fact that they wouldn’t know the first thing about it.

There can be no mistake: The media has undertaken a massive effort to inform readers that Trump’s most public and passionate supporters are a massive cuddle-puddle of debased bigots. From the outset, we’ve been told that this is a darkness that Trump has “tapped into,” or “empowered,” or “unleashed.” He’s buoyed by a “spasm of hatred” that “no one should have been surprised by.” He “opened a sealed door against bigotry.” Many people have openly wondered, not unreasonably, whether the sickness at the heart of the Trump movement will wreak destruction upon the body politic even if the man himself loses.

The media has spared no expense to tell this story, time and time again. They’ve dispatched poets and deep thinkers, grizzled veteran authors and sad young literary men to cover this phenomenon. They’ve turned tweetstorms about the lumpen insanity of Trump’s rallies into star vehicles. They’ve been quick to point out the numerous instances in which Trump has signaled that he’s pretty much OK with this segment of his fan base. Data has been cited, numbers crunched.

The New York Times has certainly dropped the ball a few times during this campaign, but it’s also done yeoman’s work to expose as many readers as possible to the raw and uncensored voices of Trump rally attendees, along the way providing as much evidence of the “basket of deplorables” as anyone could want. From the Times:

New York Times reporters have spent over a year covering Donald J. Trump’s rallies, witnessing so many provocations and heated confrontations at them that the cumulative effect can be numbing: A sharp sting that quickly dulls from repetition.

But what struck us was the frequency with which some Trump supporters use coarse, vitriolic, even violent language — in the epithets they shout and chant, the signs they carry, the T-shirts they wear — a pattern not seen in connection with any other recent political candidate, in any party.

Not everyone attending a Trump rally behaves this way. In fact, many are polite and well mannered. But while protesters are often shouted down, crowds seldom express disapproval of the crude slogans and angry outbursts by Mr. Trump’s supporters. Indeed, these displays have become inextricably bound with the Trump show itself — as much as the snaking entrance lines and the calls to “build a wall” along the border with Mexico.

Last month, NBC reporter Katy Tur wrote an essay for Marie Claire about following Trump on the campaign trail. After its publication, there was only one part of it that anyone wanted to talk about ― the time Trump called out Tur by name at a rally in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, referring to Tur as a liar and urging the crowd to hurl invective at her. “The crowd,” she wrote, “feeding off Trump, seemed to turn on me like a large animal, angry, and unchained.” Tur continued:

It wasn’t until hours later, when Secret Service took the extraordinary step of walking me to my car, that the incident sank in.

The wave of insults, harassment, and threats, via various social-media feeds, hasn’t stopped since. Many of the attacks are unprintable.

“MAYBE A FEW JOURNALISTS DO NEED TO BE WHACKED,” tweeted someone with the handle GuyScott33, two weeks after Trump lashed out. “MAYBE THEN THEYD STOP BEI[N]G BIASED HACKS. KILL EM ALL STARTING W/ KATY TUR.”

Tur has received the sympathy and support of her media colleagues, which is as it should be. In light of this and plenty of other incidents, any member of the political press would have to make a serious, sustained effort not to see that Trump’s campaign has functioned as a kind of Bat-Signal for some very, very angry, hateful, dangerous types. So you’d think that when another presidential candidate essentially confirms all of this publicly, reporters would be just the smallest bit appreciative.

Not so much!

Now, it’s true that “empty platitudes grease the wheels of political reporting,” as Andrew Gelman wrote at The Washington Post last year. So it hasn’t really been a surprise these past few days to hear political journalists tsk-tsking about some set of “rules” as if that’s a real thing everyone knows about. We’ve also heard some cockeyed scolding about how if someone is a bigot, and you accurately describe them as such, it really means you’re the bigot. None of this makes any real sense, given the tone with which the media has previously covered the Trump groundswell ― a tone that’s ranged between concern and alarm for the better part of this election cycle. 

“Is that how political reporting has to be done?” asks Gelman. “You have an opinion and then you say fact-free, reasonable-sounding things that line up with the opinion?” Basically, yes: The “gaffe” subroutine has been initiated, and it has to play itself out to the end.

In fact, the way in which many media figures responded to Clinton’s observation basically required them to first abandon much of what they have already documented about Trump’s supporters. Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates notes: “It is easy enough to look into Clinton’s claim and verify it or falsify it. The numbers are all around us.” The only way to criticize Clinton for what she did ― which, again, was just to point out racism and go “hey, that right there, that’s racism”― is to ignore many months’ worth of good reporting and simply go, as Gelman says, fact-free.

Coates puts a finger on something important: If it were possible to make a factual case against Clinton, someone would make it. No one has done that, because the facts are on Clinton’s side. But that hasn’t stopped the fingers from wagging. Per Coates:

To understand how truly bizarre this method of opining is, consider the following: Had polling showed that relatively few Trump supporters believe black people are lazy and criminally-inclined, if only a tiny minority of Trump supporters believed that Muslims should be banned from the country, if birtherism carried no real weight among them, would journalists decline to point this out as they excoriated her? Of course not. But the case against Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” is a triumph of style over substance, of clamorous white grievance over knowable facts.

Here’s the real irony: One of the biggest demands to which the political press has constantly subjected Clinton is that she be “authentic.” That’s tricky for a candidate whose relationship with the media has grown toxic and mutually corrosive. Having written about this aspect of Clinton’s public life, I’ll acknowledge that in many ways, she bears some of the blame for this. Another current campaign story ― Clinton’s bout of pneumonia, and the abrupt way in which it’s been disclosed ― provides a good illustration of this problem. Clinton’s so over-concerned about the way the media would “play” this story that she can’t simply be forthright about what’s going on. Everyone loses.

But the wrongheadedness of the whole “authenticity” demand ― that’s all on the media. Last April, The New Republic’s Elspeth Reeve thoroughly examined the media’s “hunt for an authentic Hillary Clinton,” and how whenever they actually caught sight of it, they ended up being inflamed and outraged:

In Clinton’s most famous feminist moment ― “I suppose I could’ve stayed home and baked cookies and have teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life” ― she was too authentic. History has mostly forgotten that Clinton was responding to Jerry Brown’s claim that her law firm benefitted from Arkansas state business, and not speaking about stay-at-home moms. But if you watch the video, there’s an edge to her voice, an obvious annoyance at what she considers a sexist attack. 

How did this moment go over? The Boston Globe’s Joan Wickersham remembers it well:

She got slammed. The cookie-baking reference was seized upon as evidence not just that Hillary wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, but that she had contempt for women who had made this choice. (What she really had contempt for was the assumption that, for a politician’s wife, this was the only choice.) The press and the public chose to misunderstand her, and they made her atone.

This sounds familiar!

You would think that the political media, hearing a candidate loudly affirming what they’ve been telling readers for the better part of two years, would award that candidate some points for authenticity. Instead, we have people demanding that Clinton not mention this demonstrable truth, that she not speak of these Trump supporters in the same way the media has characterized them, that she not acknowledge the way Trump’s tapping into this dark well of hate represents a larger problem for the country she hopes to govern.

The overall message to Clinton that’s bubbling up in some quarters, in the wake of her “basket of deplorables” remarks, is this: No, no. We get to say that about Trump supporters. You’re not allowed. You are required to fake it. You have to be nice to these people.

And this is just as Reeve predicted: “To become more ‘authentic,’ Hillary must become even more fake.”

As Clinton takes heat for simply saying what journalists have been saying throughout the campaign, it should be noted that those who fit squarely inside the “basket of deplorables” are holding press conferences ― confirming their own existence, for anyone who needs proof. We’re here, they tell us. We’re as bad as you’ve heard. And by the way ― we enjoy the attention. What these people would really like ― indeed, what they see a Trump presidency as paving the way for ― is a white-supremacist nation-state of their own. And since there have been no reports of Pepe the Frog statues being erected in Antarctica, or on the moon, one concludes that the 1488 types probably want to set up their caliphate right here in the U.S. For the Trump campaign’s part, they’ve made sure this group got a wink on TwitterDon’t worry, guys, we see you. Keep up the good work.

It wasn’t long ago that the media praised Clinton for speaking to these concerns. Now, I’m starting to wonder if the political press truly has the stamina to take on this “basket of deplorables” that they’ve spent a considerable portion of their recent lives investigating.

It’s a scary thing to see so many in the media suddenly lose their nerve, revealing that they lack the stomach for the confrontation they initiated. Freedom of the press is pretty great in theory, but it’s not worth much if you’re unwilling to do something courageous with it. 

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   September 9, 2016   12:07 PM ET

One day after Donald Trump told NBC News’ Matt Lauer that he would be the best and most shrewd negotiator Russian President Vladimir Putin had ever met, the Republican presidential nominee went on Putin’s favorite network ― the fun, freewheeling propaganda-palooza that is RT America ― to blast the media and U.S. foreign policy in an interview with Larry King.

It was a big night for the Russian leader, to whom Trump has promised: “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” It’s actually very rare that Trump makes an upfront payment in a contract, so maybe he really is “pivoting”!

Naturally, however, many observers were left wondering things like, “Why did Trump go on Russia’s state-owned news channel?” Or, “How did they not know how this would go over?” The Trump campaign’s day-after excuses boil down to: “We were duped by one of the world’s most cunning men, Larry King.” 

A Trump spokesman offered a similar excuse in an interview with CNN:

Jason Miller, a Trump spokesman, told CNN the interview was recorded as a podcast and was a favor to King, adding, “Mr. Trump was never told it would be shared anywhere else.” Miller later said Trump wouldn’t have agreed to do the interview had he known it would be aired on RT.

Got it. Makes sense. Obviously, Trump never would have gone on the RT America show if he had even a whiff of suspicion that it could have possibly ended up airing on RT America. Trump knows better. He’s a shrewd negotiator who is always two steps ahead, man.

How could anyone have known that King’s show was going to be aired on RT America? It would have taken some kind of supergenius to divine that mystery ― a mastermind vetter with a nose for well-hidden facts and access to something like, say, Wikipedia.

Obviously, the wily minds at RT America do not make it easy for people to figure this out. You really have to peel the onion, maybe even go so far as to watch one episode of King’s show. 

At least people finally know the truth about this RT America show produced by an RT America host that airs on RT America.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Jason Linkins   |   September 8, 2016    3:55 PM ET

So, that happened. This week, The Huffington Post added new reporting to an old story ― namely, the curious way that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi halted an effort to investigate the claims of those who believed they’d been defrauded by Trump University after that “university’s” namesake sent a little bit of payola her way. It’s a hard, harsh read ― and deservedly so.

It also breaks into the news cycle during a week when another war was newly enjoined over how the media has treated both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Is Clinton getting “Gored”? Or is there an “unrelenting” effort underway to “delegitimize all negative reporting” about the former secretary of state? Maybe the media is just fundamentally “out of whack”?

On this week’s podcast, we’re turning the harsh lens on ourselves to see if the problem isn’t simply that we’ve become so inured to Trump’s antics that they don’t register anymore. Joining us in this effort is MTV News’ Ana Marie Cox.

Elsewhere on this week’s podcast, we breakdown the latest (in)action undertaken by a Congress charged with helping to fund the ongoing battle against the Zika virus. Plus, we revisit HuffPost’s July story over the number of people who have died in America’s jails one year after the well-publicized death of Sandra Bland ― and bring fresh concerns along with the coverage.

“So, That Happened” is hosted by Jason Linkins, Zach Carter and Arthur Delaney. Joining them this week: MTV News’ Ana Marie Cox, as well as Huffington Post reporters Mike McAuliff and Ryan Reilly. 

This podcast was produced, edited and engineered by Christine Conetta.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you’re there, please subscribe to, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost podcasts here.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

Jason Linkins   |   September 6, 2016   11:53 AM ET

Last week, I found myself wondering if anyone else had noticed that one of the recent additions to the campaign of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump was this Roger Ailes fellow, who came to the Trump camp fresh from being forced out at Fox News amid allegations of sexually harassing numerous women in his employ over many years.

“Hey, don’t hire this guy,” seemed to be a no-brainer to me, but I was feeling a little alone in that opinion.

I needn’t have worried too much, it turns out. Nearly simultaneously, Slate’s Michelle Goldberg published a piece that also sought to point out the obvious ― that hiring Ailes under these circumstances was “not normal.” And over the weekend, NBC News’ Chuck Todd, during a “Meet The Press” interview with Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, expressed the same sort of misgivings.

Todd questioned the wisdom of hiring Ailes (as well as Breitbart News head Steve Bannon), given the “troubling allegations” swirling around him. Pence did his best to not appear too troubled by any of this.

TODD: Quick question about the leadership of the campaign. There’s been some troubling allegations, both against Steve Bannon, some things he may have said about Jewish people, some things he may have ― happened between him and his wife. There’s been troubling allegations having to do with Roger Ailes, both of whom are apparently advisors to this campaign. Are you comfortable with that, considering some of the allegations you’ve read against both of these men? Are you comfortable with their involvement in this campaign?

PENCE: Well, I promise you, the person leading Donald Trump’s campaign is Donald Trump. You know, he and I talk every day, sometimes several times a day. He is a hands-on leader and a hands-on CEO.

TODD: Appropriate for Roger Ailes to be involved?

PENCE: I trust Donald Trump’s judgment to assemble around this team a group that’s going to help us move forward and be successful and win. And come on, I mean Steve Bannon has denied all of those allegations. And―

TODD: Well, some of them are in court records.


TODD: And look, and I know divorces are divorces. I’m not going to ― but it’s troubling allegations. People are going to look at that and say, “All right, Steve Bannon, then you see all these allegations against Roger Ailes, it just feels as if there’s ― does he ignore troubling allegations against people that work for him?”

PENCE: I trust Donald Trump to assemble a team around him in this campaign, as he has and will continue to. You’ll continue to see people added to this campaign. What’s really remarkable for me, having joined this campaign just six weeks ago, is the fact that this campaign has always been propelled by a movement of the American people. I mean where in Hillary Clinton, there’s a thousand employees and experts and pollsters. And frankly, there were people in the Republican primary who had significant apparatus, as well.

Since the “Meet The Press” interview, it has been reported that 21st Century Fox will offer Gretchen Carlson ― the “Fox & Friends” host whose accusations helped drive Ailes from his Fox News perch ― a $20 million settlement and an apology. The New York Times reports that Ailes is “responsible for a portion” of the Carlson settlement, and that Fox News is “in settlement talks with other women at the network.” In addition, Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren announced today that she will resign from the network ― a source tells New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman that Van Susteren was “troubled by the culture” at Fox News, though additional reports suggest that she may have made her decision based upon a failed attempt to renegotiate her contract in the wake of Ailes’ departure.

It’s also been reported that Ailes’ legal team ― taking a page from the Trump playbook ― plans on launching a counter-attack against Sherman, the reporter who, as Lloyd Grove describes, “spearheaded the reporting on [Ailes’] recent scandal.” Obviously, what the Trump campaign needs for the stretch run to Election Day is a new distraction.

Of course, bringing Ailes into the fold at this point in time doesn’t make much sense if you want to concentrate on winning the presidential election, but it could be a shrewd move if, as some believe, the point of Trump’s presidential run is to scratch a new media empire out of the ruins. Hopefully Pence will find a home there, if they can manage it.


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

Jason Linkins   |   September 2, 2016    3:09 PM ET

Over at Daily Intelligencer, Gabriel Sherman has a fresh account of the banishment of Roger Ailes from the Fox News Channel, focused mainly on the women at Fox who meticulously built their case against the infamous network head in response to years of sexual harassment. You can revisit many of the gory details of the case: the snide sexist comments, the way Ailes treated his female talent as objects for his on-demand titillations, and the retreat to intimidation whenever one of Ailes’ victims dared to stand up to him. All in all, it paints the picture of an ouster that was justly deserved.

Here’s an interesting side detail to this whole story, though. Ailes went from being forced out at Fox News under a grotesque, career-ending scandal to ― hey, let me double-check this ... oh, yeah, here we go ― advising a presidential campaign.

That’s like ... fffffucked up, man! I think that maybe more people should talk about this?

Of course, many people have noted that Ailes has ended up in the advisory orbit of GOP presidential candidate and sewage-poisoned log flume Donald Trump. One can’t help but notice this because, of late, the Trump campaign has seemingly made a mission of collecting many of the right wing’s more diabolical characters, “Pokemon Go”-style.

Trump traded up friend-to-dictators Paul Manafort for the dick-to-his-friends Steve Bannon, who apparently nurtured a rancid corporate culture of his own over at Breitbart News. More recently, Trump added Citizens United hatchet-man David Bossie to his camp as deputy campaign manager. They join ranks that include famed “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, trench-mouthed adviser Carl Paladino, and the perpetually hanging on hanger-on Corey Lewandowski, whose relationship to the campaign ― maybe he’s in, maybe he’s not ― seems to depend on the wind direction. (Recent acquisition Kellyanne Conway is the seasoned professional who’s been tasked with extracting a functioning, professional campaign from this rogues’ gallery ― that is, if she has any time left between all the occasions Ailes asks her to “give him a little twirl.”)

So, yeah, maybe it’s easy to lose a Roger Ailes in that sketchy wilderness, but one would think that the fact that Ailes got tossed from the news network he led to prominence after it came to light that he’d been routinely terrorizing his female employees might make it just a little bit harder. (Harder still, when you factor in the allegations he was using shareholder money for what amounted to prostitution, the “black box” espionage operation he set up within Fox, and the massive settlements he paid out to keep all of this quiet.)

Strangely however, the fact that Ailes’ workplace scandal ― the very thing that made it possible for him to advise the Trump campaign in a formal capacity in the first place ― doesn’t seem to come up all that often, and when it does, it never comes with any sort of accompanying comment noting that it’s really, really messed up that the guy went from his specific sort of tawdry downfall to the inner circle of a presidential campaign, or that this is the sort of hire that most presidential campaigns try to not make at this stage of the game.

The New York Times, in its initial report on Ailes’ involvement with the campaign, very quickly notes that Ailes was “ousted ... over charges of sexual harassment.” But the same piece moves quickly to suggest that for Ailes, “being connected with Mr. Trump’s campaign could be a form of redemption after he was pushed out of the powerful network that he helped build.” Leaving aside the fact that the Trump campaign seems to the planet’s least likely repository of spiritual salvation, how would this work? It would seem that Ailes’ path to “redemption” would necessarily include a raft of apologies and the making of substantial restitution to the women he abused.

“Still,” writes the Times, “Mr. Ailes’s involvement is certain to stoke controversy.” Not if you suggest that his involvement might lead to redemption it won’t!

CNN’s Brian Stelter, pointing out the strange way the Trump campaign seemed to not want to make its embrace of Ailes known ― endeavoring to distinguish Ailes as an adviser to Trump, but not to the campaign ― notes Ailes’ ouster and provides the understatement: “The distinction is significant because Ailes is a subject of controversy.” I’ll say! And attendant to that controversy is the fact that Trump actually defended Ailes during the swirling scandal. “I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining,” said Trump, “I know how much he’s helped them.” Sure, sure.

“It makes a certain sense,” writes The Atlantic’s David Graham, “that ― as The New York Times reports ― Roger Ailes, the recently ousted Fox News chief, is advising Donald Trump ahead of the presidential debates.”

But, does it??

“Whatever his failings,” Graham writes, “Ailes knows his way around TV and salesmanship.”

I mean, the whole fact that he made a practice of sexually harassing his on-air talent maybe suggests that these skills aren’t as amazing a commodity to a campaign as one might have previously imagined. Moreover, I’m having a really difficult time picturing a conversation between Ailes and Trump in which Trump accepts the premise that Ailes knows more about how to perform on television than the candidate does.

By far the oddest story on the Ailes-Trump team-up comes from The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers, in a piece titled, “Why Donald Trump and Roger Ailes are so cagey about their relationship.” Based on that headline, you’d think that this explanation would be very quickly and capably rendered, because of the rather obvious reason they’d need to be so cagey. 

Per Borchers:

Now, CBS News reports that Ailes participated in a debate prep session Sunday. If the TV titan is assisting Trump, why so cagey? Why wouldn’t the two men just say they are working together?

A few explanations come to mind.

Well, there’s the one explanation ― the one! ― that comes to mind, sits there in the mind, pecks at the mind, demanding attention from the mind, that will only finally get on up out of your mind and leave you alone when you acknowledge it. What are these “few explanations?”

  1. These are media-savvy men who understand that restricting information keeps the press interested.”

  2. “Another possible reason is that denying basic, factual truths is just a thing Trump does. It doesn’t even have to be bad stuff, necessarily. He just seems to get a kick out of telling journalists that their accurate reporting is actually wrong.”

  3. It’s also worth considering the possibility that Ailes is the one who wants to keep his work for Trump — however informal — on the down-low ... On the other hand, Ailes’s jumping aboard the Trump Train could tarnish the accolades he and Fox News received early in the GOP primary for tough coverage.”

Callum! Bruh! Don’t overthink this! They are being “cagey” because Roger Ailes watched his career go up in flames after he sexually harassed a bunch of his employees and then Trump turned around and gave this scoundrel a safe harbor.

“At first glance, it seems silly for Trump and Ailes to be so secretive,” writes Borchers, “But the closer you look, the more it makes sense.”

Okay, in the first place, this piece actually fails to make sense of it. But more importantly, the whole arrangement is what looks, at best, “silly.”

Right now, the Trump campaign should be working to make inroads with women voters. Ailes’ presence on the campaign makes that harder. Right now, the Trump campaign wants to keep attention away from his own sketchy workplace behavior. Ailes presence on the campaign makes that harder. The Trump campaign may want to make more hay out of Bill Clinton’s various sexual pecadillos ― something Trump has been signaling all year that he’s prepared to do. Ailes’ presence on the campaign ... well, I’m sure I don’t need to underscore this.

There’s really only one way in which Ailes joining the Trump campaign can possibly make good sense, and that is if what we know as “the Trump campaign” is now in transition from a legitimate presidential candidacy to the foundation of some future media empire ― which is perhaps the most credible theory of what Trump is up to. In that context, joining forces with the ousted Ailes makes sense. The two men might very well be able to construct some new media venture on the backs of their combined talent and the teeming fanbase that Trump has acquired on his presidential run. (”Roger Ailes presents the Trump News Network: the global leader in Title IX complaints!”)

Let us reiterate, for the record: Roger Ailes, a man who was forced from his job running the world’s most successful news channel due to the fact he was a serial sexual harasser, has straightaway gone to work as an adviser to a major party’s presidential campaign.

That’s altogether bonkers, right? We can agree on that, can’t we?

It’s just probably something worth mentioning, on occasion.  

[POSTSCRIPT: Serendipitously, Slate’s Michelle Goldberg had many of the same questions that I did today. Know hope!]


Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.