Tuesday Reads: Trump’s Attacks on the Press and Mueller NewsPosted: April 3, 2018
I’m having another one of those mornings. I’m scared to death about the way Trump is behaving, and I can’t get my brain to pull together a coherent understanding of what’s happening.
Trump’s latest obsession has been attacking the free press from multiple directions. He’s attacking Amazon and because Jeff Bezos owns both Amazon and The Washington Post, which Trump hates. At the same time, Trump tries to boost Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting, because they suck up to him. Should we be worried?
Brian Klaas, an expert on authoritarianism thinks so.
BTW, Trump’s attacks on Amazon have caused the company’s stocks to lose value. Can investors sue Trump for that?
There are so many tentacles to what he’s doing with his corrupt self-dealing, his sucking up to dictators like Putin and Sisi, his attacks on the press, and his undermining of federal law enforcement. What can we do about it? It seems we can’t do much but hope that Robert Mueller finds more crimes to prosecute until he eventually gets to Trump. But will our democracy ultimately survive the Trump onslaught?
Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: “Trump is like ‘How Can I F–k With Him'” Trump’s War With Amazon (And The Washington Post) Is Personal.
Trump has ripped into Amazon in recent days, claiming in a series of tweets that Jeff Bezos’s tech giant benefits from billions in subsidies from the U.S. Post office while skirting sales taxes. “Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” Trump tweeted. On Monday, he wrote: “Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon. THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed. Also, our fully tax paying retailers are closing stores all over the country . . . not a level playing field!” The tweets caused Amazon’s stock to plunge 5 percent on Monday.
Now, according to four sources close to the White House, Trump is discussing ways to escalate his Twitter attacks on Amazon to further damage the company. “He’s off the hook on this. It’s war,” one source told me. “He gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos,” said another source. “Trump is like, how can I fuck with him?”
According to sources, Trump wants the Post Office to increase Amazon’s shipping costs. When Trump previously discussed the idea inside the White Hose, Gary Cohn had explained that Amazon is a benefit to the Postal Service, which has seen mail volume plummet in the age of e-mail. “Trump doesn’t have Gary Cohn breathing down his neck saying you can’t do the Post Office shit,” a Republican close to the White House said. “He really wants the Post Office deal renegotiated. He thinks Amazon’s getting a huge fucking deal on shipping.”
Advisers are also encouraging Trump to cancel Amazon’s pending multi-billion contract with the Pentagon to provide cloud computing services, sources say. Another line of attack would be to encourage attorneys general in red states to open investigations into Amazon’s business practices. Sources say Trump is open to the ideas.
Clearly Trump is a moron, but he’s doing a lot damage anyway. Couldn’t Bezos sue him?
NPR says that Trump is causing the Postal Service’s problems: As Trump Attacks Amazon-Postal Service Ties, He Fails To Fill Postal Governing Board.
The top planning and oversight board at the Postal Service has been unable to meet and consider matters such as the agency’s long-term relationship with Amazon, because the president has failed to appoint any of the nine governors to the 11-member Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service.
In October, Trump nominated three candidates, who still await Senate confirmation. The board needs at least four new members to have a quorum for meetings, which prompted concerns from a bipartisan group of senators late last year.
“Without a quorum, the Postal Service cannot make key operational decisions or provide accountability for operational deficiencies, such as intentional mail delays, drug trafficking through the Postal Service’s network, and dramatically falling mail volumes and revenue,” according to a November letter to President Trump from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
More details at NPR.
And what about the Sinclair Broadcast Group and their takeover of hundreds of local stations? Trump has been promoting Sinclair on his Twitter feed.
At Politico, Jack Shafer writes: Trump Wants to Promote Sinclair? Let Him. As long as I can still change the channel, who cares?
I intend no defense of Sinclair by pointing out that Sinclair’s brand of conservative news lies well within an established American tradition. To begin with, American newspapers were captive to political parties for the better part of the 19th century, forever claiming that their competitors were printing the malarkey of fake news. In the modern era, William Randolph Hearst made it his business to tell his readers what to think in the pages of his national newspaper chain. Henry Luce likewise applied a political whetstone to Time magazine and his other titles to give them a conservative edge. Colonel Robert R. McCormick turned his Chicago Tribune into a permanent campaign against President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Three months before the 1936 election, the Tribune ran a Page 1 anti-Roosevelt headline that read, “Only 97 Days Left to Save Your Country!’’ In more recent decades, banking heir Richard Mellon Scaife spent tens of millions to create a conservative Pittsburgh newspaper and convicted felon Rev. Sun Myung Moon spent billions on his conservative Washington Times. And don’t forget Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel.
The moral panic over Sinclair Broadcast Group’s stupid promo might make sense if its TV stations were beamed directly into our skulls, George Orwell style. I might join the liberal dither if Sinclair wiped out its competition on the dial. But as long as I can still change my local channel and avoid Sinclair’s partisan hackery, where’s the crisis?
I don’t know what to think. I never watch local news, so I had to check to see if Sinclair owns any Boston stations. They don’t, but they apparently own some in Maine and Rhode Island, according to this Boston Globe editorial. I tend to find the situation worrisome, but it’s all part of the consolidation of media ownership that has gone on for decades. It seems concerning that Comcast owns NBC too.
And then there’s this old Politico article that Howard Dean called attention to on Twitter.
Politico: Kushner: We struck deal with Sinclair for straighter coverage.
Donald Trump’s campaign struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage, his son-in-law Jared Kushner told business executives Friday in Manhattan.
Kushner said the agreement with Sinclair, which owns television stations across the country in many swing states and often packages news for their affiliates to run, gave them more access to Trump and the campaign, according to six people who heard his remarks.
In exchange, Sinclair would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary, Kushner said. Kushner highlighted that Sinclair, in states like Ohio, reaches a much wider audience — around 250,000 listeners — than networks like CNN, which reach somewhere around 30,000.
“It’s math,” Kushner said according to multiple attendees.
But Sinclair and other networks said such a deal is nothing nefarious or new – just an arrangement for extended sit-down interviews with both candidates, one many campaigns have done in previous years to get around the national media and directly to viewers in key states.
Scott Livingston, vice president of news at Sinclair, said the offer for extended interviews with local anchors was made to both candidates. Trump did a handful of interviews, while Sen. Tim Kaine did a few as well, though Hillary Clinton did not.
One more topical article to consider from The Washington Post: A new study suggests fake news might have won Donald Trump the 2016 election.
The study from researchers at Ohio State University finds that fake news probably played a significant role in depressing Hillary Clinton’s support on Election Day. The study, which has not been peer reviewed but which may be the first look at how fake news affected voter choices, suggests that about 4 percent of President Barack Obama’s 2012 supporters were dissuaded from voting for Clinton in 2016 by belief in fake news stories.
Richard Gunther, Paul A. Beck and Erik C. Nisbet, the study’s authors, inserted three popular fake news stories from the 2016 campaign into a 281-question YouGov survey given to a sample that included 585 Obama supporters — 23 percent of whom didn’t vote for Clinton, either by abstaining or picking another candidate (10 percent voted Trump, which is in line with other estimates).
Read all the details at the WaPo.
Some news on the Mueller investigation broke early this morning.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller defended the indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort by releasing a secret government memorandum granting him authority to investigate crimes related to Manafort’s political consulting work for former President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine.
Mueller is using the memo to refute Manafort’s claims that prosecutors went too far by investigating crimes beyond Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Prosecutors released the memo just before midnight on Monday, arguing that Manafort can’t legally challenge his indictment for financial crimes arising from his work for Yanukovych and other Russian-backed politicians.
The memo, dated Aug. 2, 2017, and signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, supplements a May 2017 appointment order directing Mueller to investigate possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly” from his probe….
In releasing the heavily redacted memo, Mueller argued that Rosenstein “left no doubt that the conduct that forms the basis for the indictment is within the special counsel’s jurisdiction.” Manafort faces a pair of indictments charging him with earning tens of millions of dollars in Ukraine, laundering much of that money, failing to register as a foreign agent and cheating on his taxes.
Mueller also cited business ties between Manafort and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Any investigation of links between Russia and the Trump campaign “would naturally cover ties that a former Trump campaign manager had to Russian-associated political operatives, Russian-backed politicians, and Russian oligarchs,” according to the 53-page filing in federal court in Washington.
“It would also naturally look into any interactions they may have had before and during the campaign to plumb motives and opportunities to coordinate and to expose possible channels for surreptitious communications,” prosecutors wrote. “And prosecutors would naturally follow the money trail from Manafort’s Ukrainian consulting activities. Because investigation of those matters was authorized, so was prosecution.”
We’ll probably learn more about this in the course of today.
An interesting tweet from Ned Price:
So . . . what do you think? What stories are you following today?